Absolutely about adjectives

6th January 2023

Margaret Hale, the protagonist in the novel ‘North and South’ returns to her childhood home, and revisits her old school. The new school mistress, who has made drastic changes, cajoles Margaret into giving an impromptu lesson.

One student is having difficulty with the ‘a’ sound.

“A, an indefinite article,” said Margaret mildly.

“I beg your pardon,” said the Vicar’s wife … “ (the new teacher).

The children had been taught to refer to ‘a’ as an adjective absolute. Margaret sat down “abashed.”

“The children knew more than she did. Mr Bell turned away, and smiled.”

(Chapter XLVI Once and Now)

Mr Bell, who is a fellow at Oxford and therefore very educated, passes no comment, yet his body language sufficiently expresses his opinion.

I had not come across an adjective absolute before. I could have taken the blue pill and kept on reading, or taken the red pill; I switched over to Google and began my descent into the rabbit hole of grammar taxonomy.

Others word forms have subdivisions; nouns can be proper, concrete, collective etc, verbs can be transitive or intransitive, and there are several types of adverbs.

Fortunately, the nomenclature is more frightening than the definition. So, without further ado let’s have a rabbit about adjectives (1), starting with the adjective absolute.

Most adjectives can be modified, e.g.

London is very expensive.

The book is extremely confusing.

Studying Vietnamese is quite difficult.

However, some adjectives do not need to be modified; they are superlatives (the biggest, the tallest) or binary (either yes or no). An old joke cracks that a woman phones her mother and tells her that she is a little bit pregnant. Of course, a woman is or is not pregnant.

Show, don’t tell:

A mark of 25% is unacceptable.

The building was destroyed in the fire.

Dinosaurs are dead.

The hostages were set free.

Modifiers such as absolutely, completely, totally may be used for emphasis.

The holiday was totally perfect.

My shirt is completely ruined.

I’m afraid it is absolutely impossible for you to get into Cambridge with those grades.

Now we know why Mr Bell “turned away, and smiled.”

I mentioned the rabbit hole because there are over a dozen types of adjective. Should you be interested, here’s some links to enlighten you:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/b1-b2-grammar/adjectives-gradable-and-non-gradable

https://www.thesaurus.com/e/grammar/what-are-the-types-of-adjectives/

Notes

(1) Rabbit is London slang for talk or talking

3 thoughts on “Absolutely about adjectives

  1. Yes, the US slang makes sense. The UK version is from rhyming slang; the full expression is ‘rabbit and pork’, which rhymes with talk. For convenience, the expression is shortened to just ‘rabbit’.

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