Adjectives provide colour, flavour and sparkle to our language. However, some words add nothing but length to your writing; particularly when it comes to formal prose. Use adjectives to make your meaning more precise and be cautious of those you find yourself using to make it more emphatic.The word very is a case in point. If it occurs in a sentence you have written, try leaving it out and see whether the meaning is changed. ‘The omens were good’ may have more force than ‘The omens were very good’.

Source: The Economist Style Guide

Strings of adjectives

Adjectives have three types of role: evaluative, descriptive and definitive. In a string of adjectives preceding a noun, commas are generally required only between adjectives of the same type. For example:

  • The shrub has large, serrated, shiny, heart-shaped leaves. [all descriptive]
  • Success will depend on hard-working, committed local residents. [two descriptive, the third definitive]
  • He is a collector of fine old red wines. [evaluative, descriptive, then definitive]

 If an adjective is modifying another adjective, you do not separate them with a comma, e.g. ‘She wore a bright red shirt.’

‘Fewer’ and ‘less’

The issue of choosing between fewer and less with plural nouns is readily resolved in the context of the intended register. In formal writing, fewer is used with a plural count noun, and less is reserved for the singular mass noun:

fewer positions;  less unemployment

This distinction … does not hold for the corresponding word more, which is used with both plural count nouns and singular mass nouns (‘more retrenchments’, ‘more unemployment’).

Source: Style Manual for Authors, Editors & Printers, 6th edn, Revised by Snooks & Co., 2006.

via Grammar Police: Less, Fewer: Both less and fewer mean not as much of something, but fewer should be used if you can count the number of the object. For example:

  • Fewer dollars or less money
  • Fewer calories means it’s less filling
  • Less cloudy because of fewer clouds
  • Fewer people make up less of a crowd
  • Fewer miles or less distance

Quoted from

Absolute Adjectives and Adverbs

Be aware that there are some adjectives and adverbs that should not be compared because of their meanings.

One of the most frequently mis-compared adjectives is unique, meaning one of a kind. Something cannot be more unique or most unique. Something is either one of a kind or it isn’t. Adjectives like this (and their adverbial forms) are absolute; absolute itself is an absolute adjective.

Among others to watch out for are essential, meaning absolutely necessary; universal, meaning present everywhere; and immortal, meaning living forever.

With these adjectives and adverbs, something either is or it isn’t, and therefore comparative degrees are meaningless.

What is an Absolute Adjective?
An absolute adjective is an adjective which functions as a noun.

This term absolute adjective is applicable, by extension, to other parts of speech which are used similarly, such as possessive pronouns or numerals.

For example: The poor or The mystical in Blake’s poetry

An absolute adjective describes a quality that has no degree. Absolute adjectives should not be used in comparisons and should only be modified by adverbs such as “nearly” or “almost.”

Short and long term

He is conscious of goals in the long term. (Not an adjective, thus no hyphen). He is conscious of long-term goals. (Long-term, as an adjective, takes a hyphen), e.g. ‘He has a much stronger tendency than most to focus on the long term’ (NOT ‘to focus on the long-term’).

[Content of this post © Ascension Editing 2010]

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