Let us examine now the combinations of less/least with the basic form of the adjective.
As is well known, the general view of these combinations definitely excludes them from any connection with categorial analytical forms.
Strangely enough, this rejectionist view of the "negative degrees of comparison" is even taken to support, not to reject the morphological interpretation of the more/most-combinations.
The corresponding argument in favour of the rejectionist interpretation consists in pointing out the functional parallelism existing between the synthetical degrees of comparison and the more/most- combinations accompanied by their complementary distribution, if not rigorously pronounced (the different choice of the forms by different syllabo-phonetical forms of adjectives). The less/least-combinations, according to this view, are absolutely incompatible with the synthetical degrees of comparison, since they express not only different, but opposite meanings.
Now, it does not require a profound analysis to see that, from the grammatical point of view, the formula "opposite meaning" amounts to ascertaining the categorial equality of the forms compared. Indeed, if two forms express the opposite meanings, then they can only belong to units of the same general order. And we cannot but agree with B. A. Ilyish's thesis that "there seems to be no sufficient reason for treating the two sets of phrases in different ways, saying that 'more difficult' is an analytical form, while 'less difficult' is not" [Ilyish, 60]. True, the cited author takes this fact rather as demonstration that both types of constructions should equally be excluded from the domain of analytical forms, but the problem of the categorial status of the more/most-combinations has been analysed above.
Thus, the less/least-combinations, similar to the more/most- combinations, constitute specific forms of comparison, which may be called forms of "reverse comparison". The two types of forms cannot be syntagmatically combined in one and the same form of the word, which shows the unity of the category of comparison. The whole category includes not three, but five different forms, making up the two series — respectively, direct and reverse. Of these, the reverse series of comparison (the reverse superiority degrees) is of far lesser importance than the direct one, which evidently can be explained by semantic reasons. As a matter of fact, it is more natural to follow the direct model of comparison based on the principle of addition of qualitative quantities than on the reverse model of comparison based on the principle of subtraction of qualitative quantities, since subtraction in general is a far more abstract process of mental activity than addition. And, probably, exactly for the same reason the reverse comparatives and superlatives are rivalled in speech by the corresponding negative syntactic constructions.
Having considered the characteristics of the category of comparison, we can see more clearly the relation to this category of some usually non- comparable evaluative adjectives.
Outside the immediate comparative grammatical change of the adjective stand such evaluative adjectives as contain certain comparative sememic elements in their semantic structures. In particular, as we have mentioned above, here belong adjectives that are themselves grading marks of evaluation. Another group of evaluative non-comparables is formed by adjectives of indefinitely moderated quality, or, tentatively, "moderating qualifiers", such as whitish, tepid, half-ironical, semi-detached, etc. But the most peculiar lexemic group of non-comparables is made up by adjectives expressing the highest degree of a respective quality, which words can tentatively be called "adjectives of extreme quality", or "extreme qualifiers", or simply "extremals".
The inherent superlative semantics of extremals is emphasized by the definite article normally introducing their nounal combinations, exactly similar to the definite article used with regular collocations of the superlative degree. Cf.: The ultimate outcome of the talks was encouraging.
The final decision has not yet been made public.
On the other hand, due to the tendency of colloquial speech to contrastive variation, such extreme qualifiers can sometimes be modified by intensifying elements. Thus, "the final decision" becomes "a very final decision"; "the ultimate rejection" turns into "rather an ultimate rejection"; "the crucial role" is made into "quite a crucial role", etc.
As a result of this kind of modification, the highest grade evaluative force of these words is not strengthened, but, on the contrary, weakened; the outwardly extreme qualifiers become degraded extreme qualifiers, even in this status similar to the regular categorial superlatives degraded in their elative use.
Ilyish B. “The structure of modern English”, M, 1971
Bloch M. “The course in the English grammar”, M, 1983
The adjective expresses the categorial semantics of property of a substance. It means that each adjective used in tile text presupposes relation to some noun the property of whose referent it denotes, such as its material, colour, dimensions, position, state, and other characteristics both permanent and temporary. It follows from this that, unlike nouns, adjectives do not possess a full nominative value. Indeed, words like long, hospitable, fragrant cannot effect any self-dependent nominations; as units of informative sequences they exist only in collocations showing what is long, who is hospitable, what is fragrant.
The semantically bound character of the adjective is emphasized in
English by the use of the prop-substitute one in the absence of the notional head-noun of the phrase. E.g.:
I don't want a yellow balloon, let me have the green one over there.
On the other hand, if the adjective is placed in a nominatively self- dependent position, this leads to its substantivization. E.g.: Outside it was a beautiful day, and the sun tinged the snow with red. Cf.: The sun tinged the snow with the red colour.
Adjectives are distinguished by a specific combinability with nouns, which they modify, if not accompanied by adjuncts, usually in pre-position, and occasionally in postposition; by a combinability with link-verbs, both functional and notional; by a combinability with modifying adverbs.
In the sentence the adjective performs the functions of an attribute and a predicative. Of the two, the more specific function of the adjective is that of an attribute, since the function of a predicative can be performed by the noun as well. There is, though, a profound difference between the predicative uses of the adjective and the noun which is determined by their native categorial features. Namely, the predicative adjective expresses some attributive property of its noun-referent, whereas the predicative noun expresses various substantival characteristics of its referent, such as its identification or classification of different types.
This can be shown on examples analysed by definitional and transformational procedures. Cf.:
You talk to people as if they were a group. —> You talk to people as if they formed a group. Quite obviously, he was a friend. —> His behaviour was like that of a friend.
Cf., as against the above:
I will be silent as a grave. —> I will be like a silent grave. Walker felt healthy. —> Walker felt a healthy man. It was sensational. —> That fact was a sensational fact.
When used as predicatives or post-positional attributes, a considerable number of adjectives, in addition to the general combinability characteristics of the whole class, are distinguished by a complementive combinability with nouns. The complement-expansions of adjectives are effected by means of prepositions. E.g. fond of, jealous of, curious of, suspicious of; angry with, sick with, serious about, certain about, happy about; grateful to, thankful to, etc. Many such adjectival collocations render essentially verbal meanings and some of them have direct or indirect parallels among verbs. Cf.: be fond of—love, like; be envious of — envy; be angry with — resent; be mad for, about - covet; be thankful to — thank.
Alongside of other complementive relations expressed with the help of prepositions and corresponding to direct and prepositional object-relations of verbs, some of these adjectives may render relations of addressee. Cf.: grateful to, indebted to, partial to, useful for.
To the derivational features of adjectives belong a number of suffixes and prefixes of which the most important are:
-ful (hopeful), -less (flawless),-ish (bluish, -ous (famous), -ive