Usage Notes on Adjectives and Adverbs as Modifiers – Part 2 – Verbal with Sujit

In continuation to our previous story, we continue to unravel the role of adjectives and adverbs as modifiers.

Although most adjectives and adverbs can have comparative and superlative forms, there is a class of adjectives and adverbs in English that express an extreme of comparison or an extreme state. Trying to intensify these words or trying to form a comparative of these words will create errors in usage.

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i) An ideal choice OR A More Ideal choice ?

Incorrect: The Kayans of Borneo developed a more unique culture.

Incorrect: The Kayans of Borneo developed a very unique culture.

Correct: The Kayans of Borneo developed a unique culture.

ii) Similarly there is a class of words which strictly speaking are not open to comparison or intensification,but lend themselves to the context for comparison and intensification to produce a more profound effect.

Correct: He believes meditation has helped him lead a fuller life.

Correct: His project is more nearly complete.

Correct: His explanation seemed less adequate to his audience.

Correct: Her explanation was more precise.

In all of the above sentences the italicized comparatives are made correct only  by the context.

Given below is a list of words that are generally not open to comparison:

absolute, impossible, principal, adequate,inevitable, stationary,chief, irrevocable sufficient, complete, main, unanimous, devoid,manifest,unavoidable, minor unbroken ,entire, fatal, paramount,unique, final, perpetual, universal, ideal, preferable,whole etc.


Both adverbs and adjectives in their comparative and superlative forms can be accompanied by words that intensify the degree.(much, very much).

Correct: The students were a lot more careful in this test.

Correct: And they did so much better.

Correct: Their percentiles have been somewhat better.

If the intensifier accompanies the superlative, a determiner is also required:

Incorrect: Rolex is very finest in watches.

Correct: Rolex is the very finest in watches.

iii) More than OR Over? 

The use of over and more than in numerical expressions of age, time etc is correct.

All the following are correct sentences:

a) The wall is more than ten feet high.

b) The wall is over ten feet high.

c) She is over forty.

d) She is more than forty.

iv) Commas with adjectives

When there are more than two adjectives modifying a noun use a comma to separate them all with commas.

Incorrect: He is tall, dark and handsome man.

Correct: He is tall, dark, and handsome man.

When there two adjectives check if a conjuction (and or but) can be inserted between the two adjectives you can, put a comma between the two adjectives.

Incorrect: He is a learned wise man.

Correct: He is learned,wise man.

We can say learned and wise man; hence, place a comma between the two adjectives.If it is not possible to insert a conjuction, do not use the comma.

Incorrect: This a pretty, old trick.

Correct: This a pretty old trick.

We cannot say pretty and old trick; hence, do not use comma.

v)The rich has to help the poor OR The rich have to help the poor?

Collective Adjectives and Collective Nouns.

In combination with a definite article, an adjective often becomes a noun referring to a group of people.

the poor, the rich, the oppressed, the homeless, the dear departed, the bold, the beautiful, the honest are all nouns referring to a class of people.

Unlike a Collective Noun (which is generally singular, but plural in certain contexts) a collective adjective is always plural and requires a plural verb.

Correct: The poor are exploited.

Correct: The rich are insensitive.

Correct: The old have a tough life.

vi) Floating AND Afloat

There is a long list of adjectives that have the prefix ‘a’- afloat, adrift, aground, awake, asleep, alike, ablaze, ashore, awash, ashamed etc. These adjectives generally indicate a state that is achieved by the word to which the prefix a is attached.( afloat- in a floating condition).

Another class of ‘a’ adjectives is averse, aghast, aware, afraid, aloof and so on.

Be careful their position in the sentence. Some of these adjectives cannot be used before a noun. They are used after stative (not an active verb) like is , feel or seem.

Incorrect: The asleep boy.

Incorrect: The alone girl.

Correct: The boy is asleep.

Correct: The girl is alone.

However, an alert person, an active person, a half-asleep boy, a wide awake child are all correct.

vii) Flying planes can be dangerous.

A verb in its -ing form or -ed/en (the past perfect) form is called a participle. For example swimming and loving are participle. The -ing form is called a present participle. They can function as nouns (gerunds) or adjectives.

I love travelling. (noun- gerund)

She is a travelling salesman. ( adjective-participle)

The past perfect form of the verb is called a past participle. They can also function as nouns(gerunds) or adjectives.

He is a learned man. (adjective)

The learned are not always easy to get along with. (noun)

Since we know that  participles are also adjectives we have to be clear about their use and learn to spot and avoid ambiguities arising out of their careless use.

Ambiguous: Flying planes can be dangerous. (What can be dangerous? Planes that are flying or the action of flying planes?)

Improvement: Planes that are flying can be dangerous OR Flying a plane can be a dangerous activity.


This excerpt has been reproduced from the book “The Pearson Guide to Verbal Ability for the CAT and other MBA Entrance Examinations” by Sujit Kumar  published by Dorling Kindersley India Pvt Ltd, licensees of Pearson Education in South Asia. The content has been reproduced with permission from the author.


The author has a vast experience in training students appearing for various competitive exams. He has been preparing candidates for Verbal Ability, Group Discussion and Personal Interview for more than a decade. Apart from holding a diploma in management and corporate experience of more than 10 years, the author holds a masters degree in English Literature. He is currently working with CPLC,Mumbai as a Faculty and a part of the senior management.

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