Answers: writing about adjectives (Text 3)


The adjectives are printed in red, and then listed according to their position, form and connotations underneath.


The solemn tones of an old cathedral clock have announced midnight – the air is thick and heavy – a strange, death-like stillness pervades all nature. Like the ominous calm which precedes some more than usually terrific outbreak of the elements, they seem to have paused even in their ordinary fluctuations, to gather a terrific strength for the great effort. A faint peal of thunder now comes from far off. Like a signal gun for the battle of the winds to begin, it appeared to awaken them from their lethargy, and one awful, warring hurricane swept over a whole city, producing more devastation in the four or five minutes it lasted, than would a half century of ordinary phenomena.

It was as if some giant had blown upon some toy town, and scattered many of the buildings before the hot blast of his terrific breath; for as suddenly as that blast of wind had come did it cease, and all was as still and calm as before.

Sleepers awakened, and thought that what they had heard must be the confused chimera of a dream. They trembled and turned to sleep again.

Varney the Vampire, James Malcolm Rymer

Serialised in the Penny Dreadfuls (1845-47)

ATTRIBUTIVE ADJECTIVES: solemn, old, strange, death-like, ominous, more than usually terrific, ordinary (x2), terrific (x2), great, faint, awful, warring, whole, half, hot, confused

PREDICATIVE ADJECTIVES: thick and heavy, still and calm

GRADED and COMPARATIVE ADJECTIVE: more than usually terrific

NEGATIVE CONNOTATIONS: solemn, old [contribute to the negative mood in this context], thick and heavy, strange, death-like, ominous, more than usually terrific, terrific (x2), great, faint, awful, warring, hot, confused


NEUTRAL CONNOTATIONS: ordinary (x2), whole, half


cathedral, signal, toy are nouns doing the descriptive job of an adjective


This text is an example of narrative description. The audience is general: the reading public (predominantly working class young people) who are happy to pay a penny to read serialisations of sensational stories. The purpose is expressive with the writer using language to create a dramatic atmosphere. The context is interesting: the Penny Dreadfuls were produced in the Victorian era at a time when increasing levels of literacy meant that there was a new audience for cheap narrative. They were called ‘Dreadfuls’ because there was concern about the effect they would have on society and its moral values.

Five key points about the adjectives:

  1. dominated by adjectives with negative connotations because the writer is preparing the scene for the first appearance of the vampire
  2. the adjectives sometimes appear in strings: listed (strange, death-like; awful, warring ) or joined by a conjunction (thick and heavy; still and calm) – this is typical of the dramatic style of the writing
  3. lexical groups of adjectives reflect the similes the writer is using to portray the significance of this moment: calm-before-the-storm motif (ominous, more than usually terrific, terrific, great); signal gun (awful, warring); giant (hot, terrific)
  4. most of the adjectives are attributive – almost all the nouns they precede are abstract because the focus is on creating a dramatic atmosphere rather than on giving the reader details of a particular place
  5. the predicative adjectives are in pairs: thick and heavy follow a present tense verb (is) which creates a sense of immediacy; still and calm (the only positive adjectives) seem to offer the reader false hope – we cannot believe that the storm does not signify the arrival of something worse to come

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