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  Comprehensive Adjectival Fluency Dictionary>Introduction

Adjectival Fluency Dictionary

by Prof. Kev Nair

Comprehensive Adjectival Fluency Dictionary


If you want to be quite fluent in content-intensive speech, you need a good command of adjectives. By content-intensive speech, I mean speech in which you'll have to pack content more densely than in everyday casual conversations. And here are some typical situations in which you'll have to do this: Serious discussions, arguments, debates, interviews, negotiations, and professional & academic presentations.

Now, how really important are adjectives to speech and writing? The answer is this: Adjectives are very important to speech as well as writing — though they're not as frequently required as nouns or verbs. And between speech and writing, adjectives are used more frequently in writing than in speech. In fact, the percentage of adjectives used in speech is only about 25% of that used in writing.

But this doesn't mean that you can hope to be fluent without a mastery of adjectives. The fact is, you can't. You simply can't. Of course, the percentage of adjectives that is actually required in speech and writing is far less than the percentages of nouns and verbs. But the percentage (of adjectives) that is actually required is really crucial to fluency — even in everyday casual conversations.

And as far as content-intensive speech is concerned, this is the reality: If you don't have a good command of adjectives, you simply won't be able to carry on a content-intensive conversation or make a content-intensive speech effectively at all.

For one thing, adjectives are a convenient way of adding informational content to noun phrases. And mind you, noun phrases are the vehicles that carry a major percent of the serious content in a long stretch of speech.

For another, content-intensive speech, by its very nature, requires you to identify or describe the qualities that somebody or something has, classify something into the category it belongs to, give personal evaluation of how good, useful or successful something is, and emphasize your feelings about somebody or something — and to do all this as explicitly, and in as graphically detailed a way, as the spoken medium would permit. And adjectives are the type of words that help you most in doing all this effectively and well.

In fact, more than 75% of the adjectives used in speech are used in the content-intensive variety.
Now what are adjectives? Adjectives are usually words of (a) size, (b) dimension, (c) weight, (d) quantity, (e) extent, (f) colour, (g) brightness, (i) quality, (j) chronology, (k) frequency, (l) emotion, (m) personal evaluation, (n) physical & mental states, and (o) emphasis & intensification.

By definition, an adjective is a word like beautiful in "a beautiful girl"as well as in "She was beautiful" and quiet in "a quiet place" as well as in "The whole place was quiet". It's a word that you can add to a noun in order to describe a person or thing more definitely or more fully — or to classify, define or identify them. Most adjectives are describers. Many are classifiers.

You can use an adjective to modify a noun (= a word that stands for a person or thing) by using it before that noun — or by using it after the auxiliary or link verb that follows that noun (or a pronoun). You can use most adjectives both before a noun as well as after it (that is, after the auxiliary or link verb that follows the noun). For example, as you've seen, you can use the adjectives beautiful and quiet to modify nouns in two ways:

a) Before a noun: "a beautiful girl", "a quiet place".
b) After a noun/pronoun: "She was beautiful", "The whole place was quiet".

The before-the-noun use is known as the attributive use, and the after-the-noun/pronoun use, the predicative use.

While you can use most adjectives attributively as well as predicatively, you can use some adjectives attributively only or predicatively only.

For example, here are a few adjectives that are normally used only attributively:

digital, judicial, neighbouring, occasional, thankless, underlying.

And here are a few adjectives that are normally used only predicatively:

afraid, alive, alone, apart, asleep, aware, unable, unwell, well.

In content-intensive speech, almost 80% of the adjectives used occur attributively (and only around 20%, predicatively). In everyday casual conversations, attributive occurrences and predicative occurrences happen almost equally, with the attributive use having a slight edge over the predicative use. But as I've already mentioned, in everyday casual conversations, adjectives play only a far lesser role than they do in content-intensive speech. Actually, the percentage of adjectives that occur in everyday casual conversations is normally less than 25% of that in content-intensive speech.

You must have noticed one thing from the examples: The attributive use of adjectives results in Adjective +Noun combinations (A+N combinations):

beautiful girl, quiet place.

Here are some more examples:

brilliant achievement, creative approach, interesting challenge, noble gesture, smart idea, sweet smile, winning personality.

Now let me point out something important: Even if a given adjective is an attributive adjective and can safely be used to pre-modify a noun, that doesn't mean that you can safely use it before any old noun. Mind you, you can't. You can't do that — because the two words may not be compatible with each other at all. That is, they may not have the ability to go together well and without sounding strange.

The point is this: An A+N combination that you put together on the spot may be grammatically perfect and may sound all right from the point of view of the meaning you want to convey. But the problem is, that combination may not be an acceptable one, because it could turn out to be a combination that has not gained acceptance among native speakers of English.

Here are a few examples of unacceptable combinations that can happen if you put words together randomly without a clear idea of what nouns can comfortably occur together with a particular adjective — or what adjective can comfortably occur together with a particular noun. (The combinations outside the brackets are normally considered unacceptable, and those within the brackets, acceptable):

amicable advice (friendly advice), heavy depression (deep depression), heavy wind (strong wind), hot hospitality (warm hospitality), light cold (slight cold), merry birthday (happy birthday), mild coffee (weak coffee), powerful tea (strong tea), spoken contract (oral contract), steady exercise (regular exercise), strong car (powerful car), strong cold (heavy cold), strong rain (heavy rain), strong smoker (heavy smoker), wide accent (broad accent).

The acceptable combinations have become acceptable mainly from long or frequent use. They're combinations of words that tend to occur together regularly in a set sequence — at a rate much greater than chance. Acceptable combinations like these are called "collocations".

But is it possible for anyone to list out all the unacceptable combinations of words, with the right ones shown against them, and learn the acceptable ones by heart? This simply is not a workable idea. The only practical way of learning the right combinations is to learn accepted combinations as single units — as though each combination were a single word rather than a combination of two or more words. Ideally, this is how vocabulary should be taught — from the very first lesson at school.

This is where the Comprehensive Adjectival Fluency Dictionary you have in your hands now can be of great help.

The headwords in this book are all adjectives. Yes, adjectives, and not nouns. I've indicated how relatively frequent a headword is by marking the headwords AAA or AA or A or BBB or BB or B — the frequency decreasing from AAA-marked words to B-marked words.

Here you should note this: While you can call the AAA-marked headwords the most frequent of adjectives in the English language, you can't call the B-marked headwords the least frequent ones— because they too are actually frequently-occurring and frequently-useful adjectives, and there are, in the English language, a number of other less frequent adjectives. (This book does not cover these other adjectives that are not as frequent as the B adjectives). Only, the B-marked headwords are not as frequent as the AAA, AA A, BBB or BB headwords. That's all.

Under each headword, you'll find a comprehensive list of accepted A+N combinations that are common in use. Browse through them every now and then. First, go through all the headwords and all the A+N combinations under them in a quick and general way. Then start paying focused attention to a few of them every day.

For example, first choose about 10 or 15 headwords a day and say aloud the A+N combinations under each several times — till you can say them with an easy flow and without sounding rehearsed.

In addition, choose another 20 or 25 headwords a day and just browse through the A+N combinations under them a few times.

It may be a good idea to first concentrate on the headwords marked AAA, AA and A and the word combinations listed under them. These headwords are the most important adjectives in the English language.

Remember this: When you get to see 2 or 3 words occurring together as a single unit again and again, that very picture would help build a kind of association among those words in your mind, and this unconscious process would help you recall those words together later as a single unit.

Here let me mention a related point: I do hope that you read books regularly. Fiction, non-fiction, whatever. If you haven't developed this habit already, or have given it up, you should start/restart the habit now. Yes, today. Mind you, if you do not get into the reading habit, you'll find it difficult – almost impossible – to achieve true fluency. It doesn't matter very much what you read, so long as they're books written in the present-day English.

And – this is very important – make sure that the books you read are books written by native speakers of English or by non-native authors who really have a good command of, and are immersed in, genuine English. Otherwise, the kind of English you read is not likely to be genuine or constructed from acceptable collocations, phrases and idioms — though it may be grammatically perfect. And the consequence would bad: You too are then likely to get into the habit of picking up unacceptable word combinations and non-standard usage.

This is how your reading habit will help you: Your reading habit will help you come across a large number of accepted collocations at every reading. And you'll come across many of them again and again.

And the familiarity you get to have of acceptable combinations from books like the Comprehensive Adjectival Fluency Dictionary will help you spot and identify those collocations. This direct experience of collocation-spotting would strengthen your mastery of collocations. And so your fluency. Far more quickly and easily than you think. Yes, far more quickly. And easily.

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