Topic: noun adjectives (erroneously treated as nouns rather than as adjectives)
“Horses, they are very much admirable in Kazakhstan,” opined Nartay with a thoughtful nod. “Admired. Or perhaps appreciated, Nartay.”
“No perhaps – for sure.”
“No, no, that’s not what I meant. We appreciate horses.”
“You appreciate also?”
“No, I mean yes, of course we appreciate horses. But I was simply suggesting that the verb ‘appreciate’ would be more appropriate.”
“Very much appropriate,” concurred the young man.
“No, no ‘much’, Nartay.”
“Why not? I am understanding that horses, they are special in Britain also.” “I understand.”
“This is good; so we are common!” exclaimed my pupil triumphantly.
“No, no, Nartay, what I was trying to say was that the progressive aspect was unnecessary there.”
At that juncture, Nartay’s physiognomy became a picture of discombobulation. “Progressive, it is necessary always.”
“No, I meant aspect.” “What aspect?”
“What you’ve used in ‘I am understanding’ is called the progressive – or continuous – aspect. But we say ‘I understand’. People do sometimes say things like ‘I’m liking it’ or ‘I’m not caring about it’, but that’s incorrect.”
“I understand, I understand,” repeated the young man with considerable concentration. “But I do not understand.”
“What don’t you understand?”
“This.” He passed me a copy of The Sunday Times, a quality newspaper which I had supplied him with to strengthen his grasp of the intricacies of the English language and which he had been engrossed in before our surreal exchange.
They are all animal people – mainly horses.
“So are they people, or are they horses?”
“Oh, Nartay, ha, ha, ha!”
Nartay shot me another one of his searching looks.
“They are people – horse people, Nartay.”
“We have horse people in Kazakhstan also.”
“I know, I know, Nartay. But the point is that people sometimes get confused over noun adjectives.”
“No, no, people in general. In this context, ‘animal’ is a noun adjective, but some folk don’t seem to understand that noun adjectives have no force of nouns; they merely describe. You could say they were emasculated.”
“Ema … ?”
“Emasculated – weakened.”
“I very much like.”
“What do you like?”
“Weekend. You can rest. And ride your horse also.”
“No, no, I mean weakened – you could say they were made weaker.”
“No, no, not people – noun adjectives.”
“By being placed before the nouns they pre-modify. The nouns they pre-modify behave like normal nouns, but noun adjectives don’t: to all intents and purposes, they have stopped being nouns and have become adjectives.”
“These normal nouns, they behave … how?”
“For a start, they team up with verbs, but adjectives don’t. A few years back, a reader who lived next to an airport wrote this in a letter to the editor of one of our quality newspapers.”
Aircraft noise is awful – particularly when taking off and landing.
“You see, this person evidently thought that a noun adjective such as ‘aircraft’ is just like any other noun. It’s like saying that a park bench is a park rather than a bench! Can you conceive?” The unease on Nartay’s face made me realise that this turn of phrase was, perhaps, a tad unfortunate. “Uhrm … what I was trying to say … I mean what he was trying to say was this.”
The noise made by aircraft is awful – particularly when they take off and land.
“Secondly, you can use a pronoun to replace a noun but certainly not an adjective – even if it’s a noun adjective. But that’s exactly what some people do. I call this error illusory co-reference; it’s relatively common. What do you think about this? I found it in The Times Educational Supplement.”
Job crisis? Only if you need one.
Deep in thought, Nartay rubbed his chin. “You need a crisis?”
“Precisely, Nartay! Because the ‘job’ is here nothing more than an adjective, we need a noun on which to hang the pronoun ‘one’.”
“I mean putting together: we use pronouns for co-reference with nouns. So we’d need to say, ‘Only if you need a job.’”
Nartay gave another one of his gratifying nods.
“And this morning, when you were doing your exercises … ”
“Physical health,” interjected the young man earnestly, “it is very much important. President Nazarbayev, he emphasis it in his State Strategy.”
“Emphasised it. Your president is absolutely right.” I was indeed most impressed by Nartay’s daily exertions involving press-up, pull-ups, crunches – not to mention my husband’s weights. “But when you were doing your exercises, that’s what John Humphrys said on Radio 4.”
If you make your passport application in good time, you will get it.
“We have this passport crisis, you see.”
Nartay looked bemused. “Why? You have not made sufficient passports?”
“Well, are certainly not processing passport applications fast enough. But the point is that John Humphrys obviously had no clue that, in what he said, ‘passport’ wasn’t a noun. And how about this? It’s from The Sunday Times.”
If I was ever going to have surgery, I’d have a nose job. It’s got a dent in it.
“Absolutely! It’s my nose that’s got a dent in it – not a job.”
Further nodding provided a welcome reassurance that I was getting through to my pupil. “And this one is from The Economist.”
June 12th is Russia Day, celebrating its emergence from the Soviet Union as a sovereign state.
“We freed in December 1991.”
“No, no, I mean ‘We freed ourselves.’ The point is that this is the same type of blunder. What we need is something along these lines.”
June 12th is Russia Day, the country celebrating its emergence from the Soviet Union as a sovereign state.
“We celebrated also; my parents, they told me.”
“I bet you did. I’ve got one more for you – also from The Economist.”
The meteorite hunter needs to be ready to travel to any corner of the world where one may land.
This time, the young man appeared prepared. “Where the meteorite may land?”
“Spot on, Nartay, although we’d say ‘a meteorite’. I’ve written a little ditty about illusory co-reference with noun adjectives.”
A noun adjective is never a noun:
You team it with pronouns – you’ll always fall down;
Nor will it ever take verbs as its mates,
Yet folk often blunder – an error that grates.
“Superlative. Like your beshbarmak also; your horse meat, it tastes very much different – more tender.”
Regrettably, a violent coughing fit which seized me at that precise moment prevented me from expressing my appreciation in the usual manner.