I feel adjective

A major part of this week’s chapter of the textbook was changing nouns into adjectives and vice versa, with many of the nouns being ‘things that are good/bad for you’ and many of the adjectives describing personality or emotions. Very often when this topic comes up, I finish the week with a worksheet based on the song ‘I feel pretty’ from West Side Story, by Leonard Bernstein (words by Stephen Sondheim), which is full of adjectives in various ways. The first activity is to fill the gaps while listening to the song. There are two more activities on the sheet, but I decided to challenge to the students to change all the adjectives in the song to nouns. I wrote all the adjectives on the board, then we started on some of the easier ones, making our way through. As the activity progressed, some of the students started mentioning other nouns or adjectives, so I started adding those. We ended up with the board looking like this:

20150320_121657 copy

There is no consistent marking of nouns or adjectives in English, though there are typical noun and adjective endings. Sometimes the noun is the more basic word, and the adjective is derived from that: beauty > beautiful, and sometimes vice versa: prettiness < pretty. Sometimes the noun and the adjective are about equal: anger < > angry, and sometimes both are derived from the verb: depress > depression, depressed/depressing (and there is also ‘depressive’). Looking at the photo of the board now, I can see that I missed some – I was thinking on my feet while extracting the relevant words from what they were saying. Some students actively asked about some words: humility v humiliation. I explained that humility is a good thing if you decide to do it and if you don’t overdo it, whereas humiliation is a bad thing when it’s forced on you by someone else (or by circumstances).

There are sometimes two nouns, usually a person and an abstract noun (victor and victory) and sometimes two adjectives, especially the pair of -ed and -ing adjectives, which many ESL students mix up (‘I’m boring’ and ‘This book is bored’). Sometimes there are two negative adjectives: faithful > faithless, unfaithful. By the way, I’ve got a question mark for the noun forms of ‘stunning’ (according to Dictionary.com ‘a stun’ is a noun), and ‘well-bred (I thought ‘good breeding’ might have caused confusion than necessary). One student said either ‘abase’ or ‘abash’ so I ended up writing both words. The noun form of the latter is ‘abashment’. (BTW I ticked both ‘fizz’ and ‘fizziness’; Google Ngrams shows the former is far more common, as might be expected when there’s a choice between a simple and a complex form of the same word)

In the top right-had corner is ‘entrancing’ (from the song) which someone said the noun form of was ‘entrance’. No it’s not: the nouns are ‘trance’ and ‘entrancement’, the verb is ‘en+trance’ and the adjectives ‘en+trance+ed and en+trance+ing’. The noun ‘entrance’ is actually ‘enter+ance’ (or entry+ ance) and is totally unconnected.

This looks like a successful lesson, and in the end it was, but it had started out quite fraught, with students arriving late and one in particular refusing to engage with the material, her classmates or me, then announcing that this was boring and leaving the room, from which point I covered the board with words the other students produced themselves.


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