What is an adjective?

I am of the generation that was taught English grammar at school. Unfortunately, not a lot seems to have lodged in the brain at the time. Oh, except I do remember nouns and verbs and adjectives.

Remembering is, of course, not the same as understanding.

So when I came to tackle adjectives in Italian I quickly realised that I didn’t really understand them in English.

Take this for example, which I’ve lifted from my English grammar book [Trask, p. 5]:

… the adjective mere, as in a mere child, does not denote a quality of the child; the adjective heavy, when used as in a heavy smoker, does not denote a quality of the smoker, but rather of her habit; and the phrase a counterfeit dollar does not denote any kind of dollar at all, even though counterfeit is still an adjective.

That last example has been doing my head in—counterfeit is clearly an adjective. But what noun does it describe if a counterfeit dollar isn’t a dollar at all? Maybe counterfeit dollar needs to be some sort of compound noun.

I’d be pleased to hear from anyone with an idea of what is going on here.

In the meantime I have been writing a bit about adjectives in Italian—adjectives.

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