Literary Stylistics:
Workshop Notes no. 3

Looking at Adjectives and Adverbs, &
Putting Them All Together: Looking at the Clause

Sections in these Notes:

Key Terms
Looking at Adjectives
Words of Advice on the Analysis of Adjectives in Literary Stylistics
Looking at Adverbs
Putting Them All Together: Looking at the Clause
Looking at the Sentence

Some Key Terms in These Notes

Again, students of linguistics should be familiar with most of these terms. You should do an auto-quiz on what these terms mean before you read the notes.

adjectives attributive adverbial phrase adverbial circumstance comparative complex sentence
compound sentence conjunctive coordinate conjunction coordination downranking gradable adjectives intensifier
lexical sets modality modification orthographic postposed predicative premodifier
sentence simple sentence subordinate conjunction subordination superlative    


Your reading for adjectives and adverbs is chapter 5 of A University Grammar of English. At a more elementary level, the chapters on Adjectives and Adverbs from Anthony Hughes' electronic book, An Online English Grammar, are also of interest (see its table of contents). 

Looking at Adjectives

Attributive,  Predicative & Postposed


Adjectives as you know, qualify nouns. They can be easily located in English when they precede nouns, such as,
    'the red house',
    'the wonderful party'.
These adjectives are described as attributive.


But adjectives can also function predicatively, in which case they can be found elsewhere in the clause, such as following the verb 'to be':
    'the house is red',
    'the party is wonderful'.


In some instances, adjectives can follow the direct object, in which case it is described as postposed, such as
    'he paints the house red',
    'they made the party wonderful'.

The Intensifier and Comparative / Superlative

Many adjectives can be modified by the intensifier 'very' and other intensifiers such as 'fairly' and 'quite', and many of them have comparative and superlative forms, or, the appropriate comparative and superlative words can be added before them, that is to say

For example, the adjective 'bright' has the comparative 'brighter' and the superlative 'brightest', while the adjective 'intelligent' has the comparative 'more intelligent' and the superlative 'most intelligent'.


Adjectives which can have comparative and superlative versions, or which can be modified by intensifying words such as 'very', 'so', 'utterly', etc. are sometimes described as gradable adjectives.

* It is important to note that the words 'more' and 'most' need not always qualify adjectives, as they can also qualify nouns; eg. 'most people disagreed with the ruling', 'more students are coming forward to voice their opinion'.

The use of adjectives for comparison is discussed by Hughes in his electronic book (see the section on Adjectives in its Table of Contents).

Words of Advice on the Analysis of Adjectives in Literary Stylistics

As regards the analysis of adjectives in stylistics, one of the first questions one asks is

Lexical Sets

In analysing the adjectives, you may also want to try (if it is possible) to put them in lexical sets, in the sense that:

Lexical Sets: Also For Other Grammatical Features or Categories

Lexical sets, of course, work not only in relation to adjectives, but in relation to other grammatical features or categories as well. Lexical sets that are assembled according to features of nouns for example, whether they are countable or uncountable, abstract or concrete may have a bearing on stylistic analysis. The same can be said about the features of verbs, which may also be assembled according to their lexical sets for stylistic analysis, such as whether they are transitive or intransitive, whether their tense is past or present, or the significance of auxiliary verbs, such as aspect, or the features of likelihood, necessity or obligation, amongst other features, connected to the modal auxiliaries. In stylistic analysis of course, what is important is not the mere assembling of such features, but it must be connected to your interpretation of the text or part of the text.

Looking at Adverbs

Traditionally, adverbs are regarded as qualifying verbs and adjectives. You may also want to consider the following in your analysis of adverbs: Constituents in a clause which serve an adverbial function may consist of more than a single lexical item, such as in the following clauses:
    'it jumps to and fro',
    'he writes in a florid style'.
As such constituents consist of more than one lexical item, they should be described as adverbial phrases.*

* Adverbs are sometimes distinguished from adverbials, but as we are not doing a course in syntax, we will not put too much of an emphasis on this, except to note that
        adverbs quite often refer to single words, whereas
        adverbials may consist of more than one word.


An adverb or adverbial phrase can also precede a clause (in which case it can sometimes be more appropriately described as qualifying the whole clause rather than the main verb which the clause contains). An example is given below, which serves as a comment on the entire clause:
    'Naturally, she thought highly of him.'
However, the placement of the adverb at the beginning may still be primarily qualifying the verb:
    'Slowly, he approached the door.'

Functions of Adverbs

Adverbs or adverbial phrases may indicate

Except for most adverbs or adverbials serving a conjunctive function, which are usually fronted, the other functions allow adverbs or adverbials to appear elsewhere in the clause.

You may also be interested in taking a look at the section on Kinds of Adverbs in Hughes' online grammar book. You may notice here that his Adverbs of Manner, Adverbs of Place, and Adverbs of Time can be classified under circumstantial adverbs; whereas some of the examples of Adverbs of Certainty and Adverbs of Degree can be classified as modal adverbs; in fact, Adverbs of Degree could also be classified as intensifiers, which are discussed elsehwere in this document. 

The Nature of Adverbs

As you can see, adverbs or adverbials are more complex as a lexical category than adjectives. However, although we are interested in adverbs and adverbials in their various functions in our workshop, our focus will mainly be on those which qualify verbs, and those which qualify adjectives. Adverbials or adverbial phrases serving the function of qualifying the clause are also important, and will receive some mention in today's workshop, but they will be dealt with again in our workshops on Hallidayan grammar later in the term (as circumstantial, modal and conjunctive adjuncts).

Identifying adverbs which qualify verbs should not be too difficult. They usually follow the verbs: eg., 'he walks clumsily', 'he speaks rapidly'. Sometimes, it is possible for such adverbs to precede the rest of the clause, such as 'clumsily, he walks', or 'rapidly, he speaks' (although such a construction may indicate that it is more the whole clause that is qualified rather than the verb). (You may be interested to know here that these adverbs are also known as circumstantial adjuncts [in this instance, they are the circumstantial adjuncts of manner]; these adjuncts will be mentioned again in one of the workshops on Halliday's grammar.)

However, when adverbs qualify adjectives, they precede rather than follow the adjectives: eg. 'a clumsily rapid delivery', 'a rapidly diminishing resource'. Unlike adverbs which qualify verbs, it is not possible to front adverbs which qualify adjectives at the beginning of the clause; if they are fronted, they cease to qualify the adjectives.

Adverbs in Stylistic Analysis

From a stylistic perspective, adverbs or adverbials, like adjectives, give more description to a passage. Unlike adjectives however, they do not merely serve the function of qualifying only one type of lexical category. Their stylistic significance may therefore vary according to the function they serve in a clause, and the functions they serve are more diverse than that of adjectives for example. Lexical sets of adverbs or adverbials may also be useful for stylistic analysis. Adverbials can be further described in terms of their modal, circumstantial or conjunctive characteristics, and their lexical sets be collated accordingly.

Putting Them All Together: Looking at the Clause

We have so far dealt with individual lexical categories or parts of speech. As you are undoubtedly aware, each lexical category does not function by itself, but only in relation to others in a clause. In English, it is possible to have a clause with only two lexical items, such as
    'he dances' or
    'they laugh'.
Or even, for that matter (with specific reference to imperatives) we can have a clause with only one lexical item, such as
    'march!' etc.[1]*

As you may know, 'he' and 'they' in the two earlier clauses are known as subjects, and 'dances' and 'laugh' are the verbs which form a grammatical relationship with their respective subjects.

In order to indicate that such a verb has a grammatical relationship with its subject, and with the rest of the clause, which it initiates (or 'predicates'), it is called a predicator by Halliday. The predicator excludes the finite element of the clause, thus indicating that it is also found in a non-finite clause.

The subject and predicator can be regarded, at least traditionally, as essential for a clause.[2]* If a so-called clause does not have both these grammatical categories, or constituents, then it may be the case that one of them has been deleted (or ellipted), but assumed to be grammatically there. If this is not the case, then we are not dealing with a clause, but with a phrase.

However, other grammatical categories may be found in a clause, in addition to the subject and the predicator. Notice that the clauses given above have intransitive verbs as their predicators. If the verb used is transitive, we need a direct object following it. The direct object falls under the category of complement in Halliday's grammar.[3]* For transitive verbs such as 'to kick' and 'to make' to function in a clause, a direct object needs to immediately follow each of them: 'he kicks the ball', 'they make cakes'.

An additional term which needs to be introduced here is the adjunct, which is basically

  • an adverb,
  • a phrase performing an adverbial function, or
  • a prepositional phrase.[4]*

    Thus a clause may have the following constituents:

    Subject - Predicator - Complement - Adjunct

    The above constituents may be in the given order if the clause is a canonical declarative clause with a transitive verb as its predicator): for example,
        'he kicks the ball gracefully',
        'they make cakes today',
    as illustrated in the tables below

    Table 3.1
    he kicks the ball gracefully
    Subject Predicator Complement Adjunct

    Table 3.2
    they make cakes today
    Subject Predicator Complement Adjunct

    An initial complicating factor here is the fact that in language, each of the constituents above may have more than a single word or lexical item. We have seen that in 'he kicks the ball', the (singular countable) noun 'ball' needs a determiner, which is the definite article 'the' in the above example. So word or lexical item should not be confused with clause constituents. It is possible to have more than just 'the ball' as the complement for the above clause: eg. 'the red ball', 'the beautiful red ball', 'the remarkably beautiful red ball' etc, as illustrated in the table below:

    Table 3.3
    Subject Predicator Complement Adjunct
    he kicks the red ball gracefully
    he kicks the beautiful red ball gracefully
    he kicks the remarkably beautiful red ball gracefully

    The same can be done for the other constituents: eg. 'the ladies in red aprons make cakes', 'they were going to have finished making the cakes', 'they make cakes in an extremely careful manner', as illustrated in the following table.
    Table 3.4
    Subject (finite)[5]* Predicator Complement Adjunct
    the ladies in
    red aprons
    make cakes --
    they were going to have
    finished making
    the cakes --
    they make cakes in an extremely
    careful manner

          *(1) It can be argued however, that an imperative has a missing subject, and thus, there are two constituents even here. [Back to position in the text.]
          *(2) As we have seen above, this is arguable, but yet again, as we are not doing a course in syntax, I won't bother you with this (eg., the analysis of subjectless clauses in certain languages).
    [Back to position in the text.]
          *(3) What Halliday calls the complement also includes what Quirk et al. describes as the subject complement: for example, the word following the verb in each of the following: 'they are teachers', and 'he seems intelligent'.
    [Back to position in the text.]
          *(4) Quirk et al.'s grammar, has a definition of complement which is quite different from that of Halliday, and will not be used in our module in order to avoid confusion.
    [Back to position in the text.]
          *(5) I have added the 'finite' column here to indicate that it is, strictly speaking, separate from the predicator constituent in Halliday's grammar.
    [Back to position in the text.]

    Looking at the Sentence

    Orthographic Entity

    We use the term clause above, which is related, but is quite different from a sentence.

    Simple, Compound and Complex

    There are other terms in traditional grammar which you may find useful to know in stylistic analysis:

    Coordination and Subordination

    Traditionally, a coordinate clause is regarded as having an 'equal' or grammatically 'independent' relationship with the other clause or clauses in the sentence. One way to locate a coordinate clause is to look at the coordinate conjunction which connects it with an earlier clause. Some of the familiar coordinate conjunctions are 'and', 'but' and 'or'.

    To test whether a clause performs a coordinate function with an earlier clause, one tries to front the clause, together with the conjunction preceding it: if this does not succeed, then the clause is more likely to be a coordinate clause.

    For example, in relation to
       'he dances and they make cakes',
    it is not possible to have
       'and they make cakes, he dances'.
    The clause beginning with 'and' is therefore a coordinate clause.

    However, it is grammatically possible to move the clauses beginning with 'when' and 'to' in the following to the front:
       'he dances, when they make cakes', and
       'they bake cakes to make him dance'.
    The clauses beginning with 'when' and 'to' are therefore regarded as subordinate clauses. There are of course exceptions to this rule. As we will see later in our module, exactly the opposite applies when one talks of sentences involving projection.

    Subordinate conjunctions are more varied than coordinate conjunctions, and include 'when', 'where', 'because', 'although', 'since', etc. Subordinate clauses can also be preceded by a non-finite verb, such as the 'to infinitive' 'to make' above, or an '-ing infinitive', such as 'they bake cakes, making him dance' (although the fronting of the subordinate clause does not seem to work that neatly for this example: the sentence 'making him dance, they bake cakes', although grammatical, does appear to lose its causal sense: i.e. 'after/while making him dance . . .' instead of ' . . . thus making him dance').

    There are some further notes on some of the issues dealt with above, such as the subordinate and coordinate clauses and complex and compound sentences in the document on clauses in the University of Victoria's Writer's Guide.


    Before we go on to our analyses, we may briefly mention a further complication (which will be dealt with again in a later workshop): some of the clauses which appear superficially as subordinate clauses may not function as such within a sentence, as they are, or are part of, the constituents in a clause. In other words, these so-called 'clauses' have been 'downranked'. For example, all the following italicised clauses function as constituents within the clause, or as part of them, rather than as subordinate clauses in their own right:

  • 'they made the cakes which my mother bought' (as part of the complement);
  • 'they made what was wanted' (as the complement itself);
  • 'whoever needs cakes should make them themselves' (as the subject).
    We may note that all the three examples here are actually simple sentences, as the sentences do not actually have subordinate or coordinate clauses in them.

    More discussion on downranking can be found at the beginning of Dr Alvin Leong's lecture notes on the clause.

    Texts that May Be Analysed, Either Partially or Fully

    Extract from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
    William Strode's 'On Westwall Downes'
    Shakespeare's Sonnet 116
    Extract from D. H. Lawrence's The Fox
    Extract from To the Lighthouse
    Carl Sandburg's 'A. E. F.'

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    Last revised: 16 May 2017
    Ismail S. Talib 1995-2017