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Adjectives Linking
Language to Culture
in E.S.O.L. Classes

By: Mubarak Abdessalami


  • Abstract
  • Introduction
    1. How can Adjectives bridge the gap?
    2. Adjectives of quality in idiomatic similes
    3. Understanding culture through language
    4. "as + adj. + as" phrase
    5. "As snug as a bug in a rug"
    6. Common Errors
    7. Confusing adjectives
    8. Proverb adjectives can help
    9. Bare adjectives through proverbs
    10. Proverbs with 'too + adj.' phrase
    11. Communication



                As the planet earth has almost become as small as a village thanks to modern technology, the barriers of all sorts have started to vanish gradually, the distances have been shortened, and intercultural dialogue has started to flourish. People from different nations can contact each other to communicate and get to understand each other better. Stereotypes and prejudices are being disarmed and demolished.

                In this regard, it is imperative to take this new element into consideration when tackling foreign language teaching methods and content. The language of each nation is the mirror which reflects the people’s traditions, norms, beliefs and life styles among others. One cannot just learn a language without the culture it reflects, therefore, as teachers, we have to think of ways to bridge the gap between learning a language discretely from its culture. I’m not talking here only about second language teaching but foreign language teaching as well.

                In this sense, the adjectives could pop up to solve a great deal of the problematic. They are omnipresent in our daily conversations, and they reflect our culture in terms of tastes, likes and dislikes, opinions, attitudes, and sentiments. They also dominate our idioms, proverbs, and lots of other expressions. In a word, they can be utilized to bridge the gap between language and culture without too many complications.

                This paper, thus, comes to shed some beam of light on how teaching a foreign language within its cultural frame through adjectives is feasible and capable of saving efforts and time, and obstructing misunderstanding and conflicts in views and personal convictions. It is true that this approach is not enough to cover all the facets of this magical intrinsic blend of language and culture, but this move is indispensable to pave the way for the coverage of the other facets with ease.

    Key words

    Language, culture, idioms, simile, adjectives, TESOL, proverbs,


    \\ Anyone who uses the phrase "as easy as taking candy from a baby" has never tried taking candy from a baby //


                Although it is still a debatable issue, the tight connection between language and culture is unquestionably evident. It is anthropologically and socio-linguistically proven that this relationship is intrinsic. It is fundamental for a normal life especially for immigrants. Learning the target language is not enough for understanding a culture and living within and according to its norms. No doubt, language is determined by culture. Learning a given language is not simply a matter of learning vocabulary or particular syntactic structures of that language. Learning a language passes by having a broad idea about its culture. A language is not used accurately and meaningfully but only within its cultural immediate environment.

                How come some immigrants though speaking the host country's language find it hard to adapt easily to its culture? They reflect in their own language but speak their thoughts in the new language. This obviously would hinder communication with the native speakers. Therefore; the new comers suffer "culture shock", and this is due to the fact that language is only one among other components of the complex entity called culture.

                In English, for instance, idioms, phrasal verbs and particular functional expressions as well as tone, intonation, inflection, accent, punning and body language make a lot of difference. Consequently, learning the target language within its cultural context is the only way to make adaptation and reassurance easy and smooth for the learners of English as a second language to adapt to the mode of life in the host country.

                This paper intends to tackle a very tiny particle of this amalgamation of connections to make using the new language helpful in effortlessly assimilating the different facets of the culture. My intention is to show how teaching English, for instance, to speakers of other languages (TESOL) must go through teaching them the basics around which the English culture revolves. To learn a second language discretely from its original culture is quite risky. It may bring about misunderstanding and cultural clashes with native speakers, because the background knowledge and the frames of reference are commonly different.

                The paper is presenting the idea of using adjectives as raw material to set up a bridge able to attach the language to its culture. Adjectives are omnipresent in English expressions as in idiomatic similes, descriptive styles, functions, proverbs and so on. The paper is only a blueprint which needs extended elaboration to reach other levels. I wish this very humble and simplified work will be of some utility for educators and whom it concerns.

    I. How can adjectives bridge the gap?

                First off, let's wonder why "adjectives" precisely? It is simply because they are almost the only parts of speech capable of giving the language its identity as belonging to a particular culture, especially adjectives of quality. However, there are cases of common use of adjectives in two or more different cultures, and this actually is beneficial for paving the way to mankind's mutual understanding.

                On several levels, adjectives are means to echo the immediate cultural milieu in its diversity and particularity. They present opinions, attitudes, feelings and tastes of people within a specific cultural area reflecting their daily activities. They are completely related to the people who use them, and they tell a lot about where they are from and what interest them the most. That's why it is misleading to literally translate idioms, proverbs or common expressions into other languages without taking into consideration the cultural connotations they bear. Thus, adjectives used in idioms and common expressions make a lot of difference because they are a bit particular semantically speaking.

                Adjectives are massively used in everyday elocution to serve several purposes. One of which actually is comparing things according to the people's cultural background and their own personal views, beliefs and state of mind. Adjectives can even be backed up by modifiers or quantifiers so as to emphasize the degree of intensity and of similitude or difference among compared qualities. "Very", "a little", "a bit", "much", "more", "less", "nearly", "almost", "extremely", "rather", "fairly”", "slightly", "reasonably" etc. are samples of tools people use to quantify, grade or enhance the force of a quality of a thing or a person in relation to other things or people. What is good, cute, beautiful, extravagant, important, interesting or exciting for you may be more or less for others. What is "extremely exciting" for you today may not be so the next day, week or a year later. Also what is "immensely tall" for a short person is only "medium" for a taller person. More importantly, people who live by the sea side use vocabulary and diction different from those living in the countryside. The same is true for southerners and northerners, and so forth. This could even be applied for people's experience, interests and individual tendencies. I don't mean to distract or perturb you with all these details. What I mean actually is to show how complicated the topic is before I go directly to the central part of our talk.

    Consider the following chat about food:

    Jack: This meal tastes succulent. It's extraordinarily delicious. I crave for it.
    Bell: As for me, this sort of food is not quite appetizing. It is hardly comestible.
    Celina: I think it's rather sour and indigestible. It is twice as bitter as gall.
    Ted: Hungry as I am. It is the most delectable food I've ever tasted.

                This short exchange explains why adjectives are so explicitly powerful in delivering vivid meaning. The friends are talking about the same thing, but the adjectives, each one uses to describe the food, have given a clear idea about their tastes and how they grade or value the food depending on their moods, previous experience or their cultural origins. Even those among them who agree on a quality, they do not agree on the degree of that quality. Qualitative adjectives, hence, leave room for precision, exaggeration or debate. May be Jack, Bell, Celina and Ted are used to varied cuisine styles from different cultural areas. Culture, thus, has a lot to do with the choice of adjectives and quantifiers in relation to what is being talked about.

                Generally speaking, people see things through their own culture's eyes, and then they express their ideas and feelings through it. Culture is always present in our language. We speak the language through our cultural perspective, that's why it is hard to learn a new language outside its cultural frame. Let's demonstrate this matter through idiomatic similes.

    Every time the French people want to exaggerate the clarity of something, they compare it to "spring water"; which in English is compared to "crystal", and in Arabic it is compared to "the sun in the middle of the sky" "واضح مثل الشمس في كبد السماء” and so on.

    Whenever Italians want to say that someone is very hungry, they compare them to a wolf; whereas in English, a very hungry person is compared to "a bear".

                Adjectives, here, are just a sample to amplify the vitality of presenting a language in relation to its original culture. There is a large range of other features to focus upon not to leave room for misinterpretations and unfruitful communication. The connotations of adjectives in context are a source of great help for a non-native speaker to cope with the particularities of the host culture. The second language functions according to the culture it is loaded with. Therefore, it will be completely insane to wrap up a second language in the mother tongue culture.

    II. Adjectives of quality in idiomatic similes

                Adjectives of quality are flexible words that describe or modify a noun (person or thing) in the sentence. Gradable attributive adjectives are the most grammatical category capable of making description vivid and easily conceivable by the mind. They also make it easy to compare between two people or things. These comparisons are only valid when the cultural background is the same. The adjectives are for the most part efficient in this kind of tasks partly because they do not generally change for gender or number i.e. they have only one form whatever is the noun they modify:

                Apart from the non-gradable adjectives, this makes it possible for comparing between two or more entities and value the degree of similitude or dissimilitude between them without complications. Gradable adjectives can compare between nouns. They can show the extent of equality -exactitude-; superiority or inferiority between two compared people or things in a given characteristic or quality.

    1. Both my grandparents are old, but my grandfather is older than my grandmother
    2. The mother and her daughter are slim, but the daughter looks slimmer than her mother.
    3. Yes, both cars are comfortable, but theirs is more comfortable than ours
    4. The car is actually less expensive than you think.
    5. The teacher is as funny as a stand-up comedian.
    6. Fierce as it is, the wolf is not as dangerous as a lion.

    If we take any of the examples above, thanks to the comparative form of the adjective we can say many things in few words.

    1. Both my grandfather and my grandmother are old people, but my grandfather is older. My grandmother, on the other hand, is less old than my grandfather.

    6. The wolf and the lion are two dangerous animals, but the lion outranks the wolf in ferocity because the wolf, though ferocious itself, is NOT as dangerous as the lion.

                Owing to adjectives, we can express all these things in few words. The most essential point is that we can use the marvels the adjectives offer in bridging the gap between the learner of English as a second language and the cultural aspects of English. Among the most personal features of any culture are its idioms. They are not to be translated because once they are, they may end up in a completely awkward result; that's why introducing these idioms through adjectives is quite beneficial for the teacher, the learner and the target culture.

                The teacher doesn't have to seek or forge sentences of her own to teach adjectives. She can use the ready made common idioms for the pleasure of the teacher, the learner, the target language, the nation and the culture. Like phrasal verbs, idioms are the speciality of native speakers only. Grasping and assimilating them for immigrants is a precious gain. It allows them to cope with the mode of life and the living style of the host country.

                The learner, therefore, needs to learn two things at the same time, the function of the adjective with all its derivations and extensions in the sentence and the idioms one can use in the target language situation with confidence. The target culture, as the engine alimenting the language, necessitates the mastery of different references and aspects especially during conversations with native speakers. That's how teachers should introduce the target language to speakers of other languages so as to make the transition from the language to culture smooth and with the minimum of "shocks". Besides, the interaction between the teacher and the learner doesn't normally take place in a vacuum. The target culture is necessary to make the language functional and vice-versa.

                All in all, this part of the paper will undertake the way the teacher introduces the culture through simile idioms thanks to the adjectives. Whenever the learners face a problem with the new language, they have to check culture. The ignorance of cultural background distorts the verbal message even though it is highly styled. That's because the bridge somehow is broken. (1). Language is based on the stocked knowledge gathered by the culture.

    III. Understanding culture through language

                Natural language learning is more profitable when it occurs within a true-to-life cultural situation; i.e. use the target language as the natives do.

    What is the most suitable adjective to fill in the blank according to you?

    1. John is as as a bee.
    2. John is as as a lamb.
    3. John is as as a fish.
    4. John is as as a fox.
    5. John is as as a pig.

                To discover the right adjectives, you needn't only be good at grammar or own a large repertoire of adjectives, but also have some knowledge of the animal qualities or traits people in the target culture attribute to certain humans. Gradable quality adjectives can be helpful as to make idioms of comparison graspable and easy to learn. People are used to apply certain adjectives to certain creatures or things as being the general common individual characteristics of this animal or that thing. The trouble here is, for non-native speakers, to find out the exact adjective that can correspond to the items compared in the target culture. The cultural disparity can have an effect on the learner of English as a second language in attributing this adjective or that to this animal or that thing. Through well-designed and well-revised practice, the things might get clearer with time. Some of the above animals have attributes that differ from one culture to another. Take the camel -which is not part of the British or American culture- and try to attribute a trait to it that you think is the most distinct characteristic of the camel and see if you can get it.

                             Hassan is as as a camel.

                Apart from the nomads and few other people, none might identify the appropriate adjective suitable for the comparison. You may choose the adjective - which is a vague one like tall, big or stout. It cannot only be used for the camel, but for a great number of other animals without much difference, such as the elephant, the hippopotamus, the rhino, the llama, the giraffe etc. What else? Can we try with the adjective 'rich'? That's funny.

                             Hassan is as rich as a camel.

    (The camel then is seen in terms of a cartoon hero or a Sheik that has wells of petrol. Isn't that a stereotype? Let's not be narrow-minded.)

                Can we try with other vague physically based adjectives like, strong, giant, lip-long, hump-high etc? But none of these is appropriate. From within the nomad culture we can get two major adjectives usable with the camel namely 'patient' and 'vengeful'. Thus,

    1. Hassan is as patient as a camel.
    2. Hassan is as vengeful as a camel.

                Such problems happen every so often due to stereotyping, intolerance, mal-conception of the others or over-generalization. For this reason one has to be aware of the culture before trying to learn the language. Idioms in everyday language are to be taken for granted because they are shaped by the culture, that's why idioms are a part and parcel of "languaCulture" (Michael Agar, 1994). So the basis of the task is not just an adjective-scramble-game; it is rather a teaching strategy tending to introduce the English culture through some language features, functions or aspects. This may broaden the awareness of the significance of the strong impact culture has in manipulating and governing the language styles and concepts. Besides, it will emphasize the particularities of each culture alone, in order not to impose one's cultural aspects on the others. Misunderstanding and confusion start when we miss this very decisive language-culture linkage.

                Now going back to the exercise above, the teachers will direct and encourage the learners to find out the most appropriate adjectives the English people might have chosen for the comparison. This could be done through brainstorming and discussions, or through intercultural parley. The teacher should expect vague adjectives such as, good, big, dangerous, beautiful, cute and playful. She should make it clear that only adjectives describing the nature and personality of the animal are accepted.

                The teacher can start with a referential question like, What is the bee like for you? dangerous? Lazy? hardworking? busy? sociable? communicative? At the beginning the list of adjectives will be long, random and more general; and gradually the list of quality adjectives is restricted until the group reached the final most appropriate adjective with the guidance and the approbation of the teacher of course. The learners should take it for granted that the bee in English idioms is a busy insect, so is a hardworking person, hence the comparison.

                Because the teacher's first concern is not testing idioms, but using them to familiarize learners with the new culture, she has to be tolerant to facilitate the access to the culture through the language. To introduce and lead the learners to the right idiomatic expression, the recognition of the adjective meaning and its use in the target cultural context is her primary concern. It is what matters the most in the first stage. She should utterly be tolerant as far as implications given to the adjective comparing two related beings or things are not far from the original needed adjective. She can for example accept this,

    - 'The man is as peaceful as a lamb'.

    It is not necessary to mention the adjective 'gentle' to be correct. The sentence is clear. However it is completely unacceptable to say for instance,

    - 'The woman is as beautiful as a car'.*

                The woman, no matter how ugly she might be, is not to be compared to a car no matter how beautiful the latter is. Generally speaking the language is a means used to carry out meaningful discourse accepted by the others without misunderstanding stemming particularly from cultural diversity and variations.

    IV. “as + adj. + as” phrase

    A. Fill in the blank with the most appropriate adjective from the list.
    1. John is as as a bee.

    2. John is as as a lamb.

    3. John is as as a fish.

    4. John is as as a fox.

    5. John is as as a pig.

    Though it is receptive, the exercise is challenging because almost all the proposed adjectives in each category are nearly identical. The aim is to put the learners in the realm of the new culture. They will gradually adapt to the way the target culture is conceived and start adopting the natives' conceptions of things, tendencies, behaviour and emotions.


    1. John is as busy as a bee.
    2. John is as gentle as a lamb.
    3. John is as dumb as a fish.
    4. John is as sly as a fox.
    5. John is as fat as a pig.

    The 'as adj. as a noun' structure is a very common expression in everyday language among the English people. The learners should be prepared not to be astonished to hear for instance, “as busy as a beaver” or “as busy as a cat on a hot tin roof” they are just extensions of the idiom “as busy as a bee”. This diversity comes from the richness of the facets of the same culture.

                Thanks to its flexibility, the idiomatic expressions are not taught for their own sake, we must remind you, they are used to guide the learners of English as a second language to discover and accept the culture with all its components which this language represents.

                There is another approach to test adjectives to fit and introduce commonplace idioms of comparisons to eventually render the language as natural as it is used by natives. It is a technique to inculcate well-known, common and frequently used idioms in natural cultural environment through adjectives and their meaning in a given context in terms of a multiple choice exercise for instance. It should be a practically receptive exercise so as to familiarize the learners with the usage of adjectives in such expressions and above all not to let them go astray.

    B. Fill in the blanks with the appropriate word from the list,

    (a) Gaudy(b) firm(c) harmless(d) greedy(e) bold

    1. The man is as as a dove.
    2. The man is as as a lion.
    3. The man is as as a rock.
    4. The man is as as a wolf.
    5. The man is as as a peacock / a butterfly.

                There are as many hints as the students need. With just a little cognitive effort, the learners can match the adjective with the appropriate corresponding animal it describes, and eventually could make the exact comparisons they have never come across the idiom before. Creating the need is what helps here. This is not one hundred percent guaranteed for the majority, but it is very convenient. "as + adjective + as + noun" simile phrases in English are not coinable at all, they are already existing as part of the culture, though sometimes in few versions.

                Let's brainstorm, which of the following is normally harmless, the dove, the lion, the rock, the wolf or the peacock? No doubt most of the learners would point to the dove as the most harmless of all. The peacock may provoke a short moment of hesitation, but with a little effort, the learners will consider the adjective "gaudy" to attribute to the peacock Thus,

    1. The man is as harmless as a dove.
    2. The man is as bold as a lion.
    3. The man is as firm as a rock.
    4. The man is as greedy as a wolf.
    5. The man is as gaudy as a peacock / a butterfly.

                All of these are accredited idioms commonly employed by native speakers. The learners not only could discover the meaning of the adjectives within context, but also they could reconstruct an expression that is part of the culture of the language they are learning. Lots of other idiomatic similes - for different purposes and in different situations- are a head of someone who learns English as a second language. Needless to say that learning idiomatic smiles is more a cultural than a linguistic issue. This will be clearer with the following exercise.

    C. Match the numbers with the letters to make correct phrases

    1. To be as awkward a. as a dog's hind leg
    2. To be as conceited b. as a rabbit
    3. To be as crooked c. as a cow
    4. To be as poor d. as a barber's cat
    5. To be as scared e. as a church mouse


    1. => c. | 2. => d. | 3. => a. | 4. => e. | 5. => b.
    1. To be as awkward as a cow
    2. To be as conceited as a barber's cat
    3. To be as crooked as a dog's hind leg
    4. To be as poor as a church mouse
    5. To be as scared as a rabbit

    To enrich the learners' repertoire with phrases as such, the teacher may like to intensify their awareness of the importance of being involved in a culture so as to be able to speak and understand the language without complications. Using adjectives in ready made expressions (which are part of culture) is better than using them in discrete sentences that look fabricated and are easily forgotten. This way the teacher provides the learners with enough adjectives which they, later on, can identify and use within specific idiomatic contexts. Because idiomatic similes are hard to remember unless you practice them in real cultural environment on daily basis, the learners will surely be "as happy as a lark" if they understand the meaning in a true to life situation or else to use them successfully in a conversation or chat.

    D. Choose the most appropriate animal to finish the phrase in this jumbled.exercise

    1. as blind as             - a dog
    2. as sick as             - an ox
    3. as stubborn as             - a tiger
    4. as weak as             - a bat
    5. as strong as             - a mule
    6. as wild as             - a kitten


    1. as blind as a bat.
    2. as sick as a dog.
    3. as stubborn as a mule.
    4. as weak as a kitten.
    5. as strong as an ox.
    6. as wild as a tiger.

                Idiomatic similes are not the only expressions where adjectives can be found and taught to trim down the gap between the learner of English as a second language and the culture this language embodies. There are as many expressions as you wish that make the learner open to the daily expressions the English people permanently use. Sayings and proverbs, hyphenated words which are mostly used in everyday colloquial English like 'a hit-and-run driver', 'stay-at-home folks' etc. To tackle all these diversities of expressions based essentially on adjectives will take time, and may end up in a mess. For the time being, why not see to what degree the adjectives can bridge the language-culture gap through learning proverbs?

    V. “As snug as a bug in a rug”

                Apart from the adjectives used in usual idiomatic similes about animals, there are as many comparables in other expressions as you need to know. These idioms do not only improve the language skills, but they refer to its culture type. Take this list for instance; although it is long, it is not exhaustive at all.

    1. as right as rain
    2. as pure as the driven snow
    3. as rich as they come
    4. as dead as a doornail
    5. as poor as a church mouse
    6. as fresh as a daisy
    7. as high as a kite
    8. as sound as a bell
    9. as dense as a brick
    10. as white as snow / a sheet
    11. as black as coal / pitch / sweep
    12. as red as blood
    13. as bright as a new pin
    14. as pale as a ghost
    15. as bold as brass
    16. as true as steel
    17. as guilty as sin
    18. as happy as a clam
    19. as calm as a millpond
    20. as cold as marble / ice
    21. as merry as a cricket
    22. as regular as clockwork
    23. as cool as a cucumber
    24. as ugly as a toad
    25. as warm as a toast
    26. as stiff as a board
    27. as pretty as a picture
    28. as sure as death (and taxes)
    29. as still as death
    30. as quiet as the grave
    31. as silent as the dead / the tomb/ the grave
    32. as quick as a wink / a flash
    33. as graceful as a swan
    34. as smooth as silk / glass
    35. as weak as a baby
    36. as old as the hills
    37. as easy as pie / ABC
    38. as light as a feather / air
    39. as sober / grave as a judge
    40. as nutty as a fruitcake
    41. as large as life (and twice as ugly)
    42. as straight as an arrow
    43. as free as the air
    44. as different as night and day
    45. as scarce as hen's teeth
    46. as sweet as honey / sugar / candy
    47. as patient as Job
    48. as likely as not
    49. as bitter as gall
    50. as proud as a peacock
    51. as solid as a rock
    52. as dry as dust / a bone
    53. as hoarse as a crow
    54. as drunk as a skunk / a lord
    55. as sharp as a razor
    56. as steady as a rock
    57. as deaf as a post
    58. as common as dirt
    59. as flat as an iron
    60. as fit as a fiddle
    61. as silly as a goose
    62. as sour as vinegar / lemons
    63. as plain as day
    64. as thick as thieves
    65. as hot as fire / hell
    66. as tight as a drum
    67. as clean as a whistle
    68. as wise as Salomon
    69. as mad as hell / the hatter
    70. as crazy as a loon / they come
    71. as pleased as Punch
    72. as vain as a peacock
    73. as sick as a parrot
    74. as tough as shoe leather / nails
    75. as keen as mustard
    76. as neat as a pin
    77. as large as life.

    The quality adjectives used in comparisons of equality phrases here are really diverse and significantly important in reflecting the culture. It is not easy for a foreigner to construct expressions like these taking his own culture as a reference, neither are they capable of understanding exactly in which circumstances they are used. They are not random at all albeit they are varied in the choice of the compared to, like in,

    VI. Common Errors

                Of course, there are lots of errors that start to invade the language expressions. This is due to a diverse number of reasons, one of which is acculturation. The teacher can solve common mistakes such as "as less as possible" by using “as little as possible” instead. Mistakes as such can be put right generally through substitution drills and extensive practice and reiteration.

                "as good as" instead of "as best as" like in "The car is as good as new", “The man is actually trustworthy. He is as good as his word" or "He is as good as gold" meaning that he owns excellent personal qualities and virtues; and so on.

                The biggest profit the learners can get from such activities is to be very close to the real cultural frame of reference where the language should be used naturally. The learners, thus, can gain more self-confidence and the ability to integrate in the new culture gradually but surely to, later on, be capable of using these expressions in day to day interactions with native speakers without any kind of inferiority complex or fear of misinterpretation or "qui pro quo".

    VI. Confusing adjectives

                No doubt adjectives are an inexhaustible grammatical category. They are a source of practical ways to bridge the gap between culture and language especially in English as a second language. Derivation has to be dealt with carefully because it causes a lot of confusion. Participial adjectives are quite easy to master once their structure and usage are assimilated fully. However they are a real source of confusion for speakers of other languages because they are actually … confusing. They stem from the same root, but for each one to describe a feeling caused by a situation.

    1. Past participles (-ed) are formed to describe the feeling one gets from a given situation.
    2. Present participles (-ing) are used to describe the situation that creates a given feeling. Let's illustrate this, Like several nouns, "boredom" has two derived participial adjectives "bored" and "boring".

    Why John is bored? It is because the film is boring. The fact that the film is boring causes John to be bored.

    Here is a list of other confusing participial adjectives

    For the learners of English as a second language to know exactly what to understand when they hear this or the other, and what to say to deliver a clear statement, the teacher can do it through a multiple choice assignment, for example, like in

    *// Choose the right word to fill in the blank.

    1. As the lesson was (interested / interesting). Everybody was (interested / interesting).
    2. Nobody was (excited / exciting) because the show was not (excited / exciting).
    3. My sister thinks the snake is the most (fascinated / fascinating) creature.
    4. The horror film was (frightened / frightening), as a result, the kids were (frightened / frightening)
    5. I am really (annoyed / annoying).


    1. As the lesson was (interested / interesting). Everybody was (interested / interesting).
    2. Nobody was (excited / exciting) because the show was not (excited / exciting).
    3. My sister thinks the snake is the most (fascinated / fascinating) creature.
    4. The horror film was (frightened / frightening), as a result, the kids were (frightened / frightening)
    5. a) I am really (annoyed / annoying).
    6. b) I am really (annoyed / annoying).     (It's funny, isn't it?!)

    Example 5 illustrates and emphasizes exactly the very confusion that participial adjectives can cause, and this is, actually, what we are tracking here. It could be "I am really annoying" and it is an accurate English utterance. Luckily, this funny statement will make native speakers smile because they know that nobody says that about themselves unless they are fishing for compliment. If one is annoying, everybody present will be annoyed and no one actually wants to be annoying or niggling.

    Other adjectives are susceptible to impede understanding when used unthinkingly. I mean adjectives like,

    The complicatedness of this grammatical category shows that adjectives are never to be dealt with loosely especially in an inter-cultural situation.

    *// Fill in the blank with the most appropriate adjective from the list

    fearful - fearsome

    # While we were walking through the woods, all of a sudden a giant bear appeared from nowhere.

    The exact adjective to fill in the blank here is incontestably “fearsome”. If you use fearful the meaning shifts to something logically inconceivable because fearful means frightened or showing fear. The giant bear causes people to be fearful as he is a fearsome and terrifying fierce animal.

    VII. Proverb adjectives can help

                Understanding a new culture via learning its language passes by proverbs as well. Proverbs are concise ageless statements transmitting wisdom across generations. Each nation has a large pack of proverbs that are generally echoed in other cultural settings, but they are almost impossible to translate because of the cultural specificities of each nation. There are equivalents but never word-for-word copies. Here comes the importance of learning a culture through its proverbs.

                Proverbs are such a resourceful mine of adjective wonders to the extent that the curiosity of the learner is triggered by the powerful influence these wonderful adjectives have on the proverbs and vice-versa. Proverbs are responsible for carrying cultural values. They are trans-generation means of norms and experience according to the immediate environment of the people. There are no absolute identical proverbs in two different cultures, but there are “cognates”.

                Beyond their connotations, the proverbs are made significant by the particular adjective used to beautify it or give it a certain value. Culture interferes to change our conception of language usage in the host culture. Apart from equivalence - as stated by Delisle (1999) - which reoccurs very so often, proverbs remain very personal for each culture apart. Nonetheless, they are a fertile field for teaching English culture through adjectives. While the learners are learning adjectives, they learn the proverbs at the same time. The bridge is set up.

    Proverbs from different cultures judiciously praise early rising,

    "Early to bed and early to rise, makes the man healthy, wealthy and wise" (British)
    "Rising early is as valuable as gold" (Moroccan)
    "He who wakes up late doesn't see the lizard / the turtle brushing teeth" (African)
    "Coucher de poule et lever de corbeau écartent l'homme du tombeau" (French)

    These rich means of learning adjectives can be made fruitful and useful if they are used in the appropriate way depending of course on the level of the learners. These proverbs can serve learning adjectives through exercises such as, matching, multiple choice, word-order, gap-filling etc. Now let's tackle the subject through the following activities.

    A. Dissect the following to form a meaningful proverb and spot quality adjectives:

    1. Allthingsaredifficultbeforetheyareeasy.
    2. Betteranopenenemythanafalsefriend.
    3. Awatchedpotneverboils.
    4. Easycomeeasygo.
    5. Ahungrymanisanangryman.


    1. All things are difficult before they are easy.
    2. Better an open enemy than a false friend.
    3. A watched pot never boils.
    4. Easy come, easy go
    5. A hungry man is an angry man.

    Comparatives and superlatives:

    B. Underline the adjectives of quality in red, the comparatives in green, the superlatives in blue.

    1. Fine feathers make fine birds
    2. The greatest talkers are the least doers.
    3. Easier said than done.
    4. More haste, less speed
    5. Actions speak louder than words.
    6. He who gives fair words feeds you with an empty spoon.
    7. Life is short and time is swift.
    8. Forbidden fruit is sweetest.
    9. Contentment is better than riches.
    10. A wink is as good as a nod to a blind donkey.


    1. Fine feathers make fine birds
    2. The greatest talkers are the least doers.
    3. Easier said than done.
    4. More haste, less speed
    5. Actions speak louder than words.
    6. He who gives fair words feeds you with an empty spoon.
    7. Life is short and time is swift.
    8. Forbidden fruit is sweetest.
    9. Contentment is better than riches.
    10. A wink is as good as a nod to a blind donkey.

    C. Unscramble to make meaningful proverbs (The first word is done for you)

    1. Once - twice - bitten - shy
    2. Wise - alike - think - men.
    3. The - the - catches - bird - early - worm.
    4. The - the - grease - wheel - squeaky - gets.
    5. Worry - thing - often - gives - shadow - a small - a big.


    1. Once bitten, twice shy
    2. Wise men think alike.
    3. The early bird catches the worm.
    4. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
    5. Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.

    The teacher may want to add some more assignments like

    1. Spot the words used for description in the proverbs
    2. find in the proverbs words which means the same as (giving them 'synonyms')
    3. Think of other proverbs like these
    4. etc

    VIII. Bare adjectives through proverbs

    *// Fill in the blanks with the appropriate adjective from the list.

    histwono every old

    1. You cannot catch birds with chaff.
    2. heads are better than one.
    3. There's royal road to learning.
    4. A bad workman always blames tools.
    5. cobbler must stick to his last.


    1. You cannot catch old birds with chaff.
    2. Two heads are better than one.
    3. There's no royal road to learning.
    4. A bad workman always blames his tools.
    5. Every cobbler must stick to his last.

    IX. Proverbs with “too + adj.“ phrase

                Proverbs with the phrase "too+adj." are less frequent, and they are good tools to get to know exaggerated expressions. The most common proverb is "Too many Cooks spoil the Broth", but there are others. The learners could be challenged in guessing the most appropriate adjectives to fill in the gaps. This is a challenging productive exercise, but it is not frustrating,

    *// Fill in the blank with the missing word

    1. Life is too .
    2. You're never too to learn
    3. It's never too to mend.
    4. If it's too to be true, then it probably is.


    1. Life is too short.
    2. You're never too old to learn
    3. It's never too late to mend.
    4. If it's too good to be true, then it probably is.

    Here is more

    X. Communication

                It is quite profitable for the learners to use the language authentically. So, to put this into practice, the teacher needs to simulate real life situations in the classroom through role-play, sketches, conversations, chats or dialogues to intensify the awareness of using the language in a culturally valid and true to life situations using idiomatic expressions or reacting to them. This activity will urge learners to watch their months and avoid offensive lingo and unintentional verbal aggression; yes, sure it is always a matter of cultural divergence.

                The simulations help a lot. They could naturally happen in the street, at the café, in a supermarket or elsewhere. In this case, the teacher's role shifts from teaching to monitoring and coaching. As receivers also, the learners would immediately recognize what it is meant by a given idiomatic expression. Literal translations from one's mother tongue to the second language are sometimes either funny or offending. Consequently, using a language according to its cultural identity makes communication fruitful and beneficial or both sides.

                Bilingualism, not pidgin, is surely a good thing provided that the boundaries of cultural differences are strictly respected. Values, jokes, fables, proverbs, cults and so on are never transgressed if the language is learnt in the way it should be. A polyglot has to be too much careful. Take the example of "the woman" in our patriarchal manly culture. Women are regarded differently in different cultures; the language only interprets those positions and attitudes vis-à-vis the woman. The seemingly sexist proverbs, "Man works from sun to sun, but woman's work is never done." and "A woman's work is never done, bent from the morn to the set of sun" can be translated pejoratively, but generally it is hard to admit that in the macho culture, it is agreed upon. This very particular topic will pour a lot of ink and "bits"; so, let's just globalize the matter this way for the sake of our mothers,

    "Women don't work as long or as hard as men ... They do it right the first time"


                Adjectives are incontestably excellent negotiators. They are capable of reducing tension between learners of English as a language and a culture. Isn't mutual understanding that we are aiming at after all? Learning a language alone can not bring about a successful interaction between individuals from diverse cultural background. Inter-cultural communication passes by mastering at least the minimum of idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs otherwise, it will immediately turn to "Qui-pro-quo" because the speakers of other languages would take an English expression literally and this undoubtedly would impede communication.

                In the middle of a conversation an English man says, "Sorry, I've got a frog in my throat." The learner of the English language separated from its cultural background, would try to look for the frog in the speaker's throat, whereas the speaker is just trying to say that he finds it hard to speak clearly. The French would have "a cat" not a frog, and thus misunderstanding is built.

                Take for instance speaking English with the French culture as basis, what a hilarious mix. Suppose A French person wants to advise you to face the problem saying, "You should take the bull by the horns" he literally translated the current French idiomatic expression, notably, "IL faut prendre le taureau par les cornes". Other French examples which once translated bring about ambiguity and harm communication badly, "J'ai d'autres chats à fouetter." word-for-word translation, "I have other cats to flip" meaning, "I've got other things to do"

                When an Arab wants to complain, “Enough is enough translating from his mother tongue he would say, "The torrent has reached the highest peak", from the original Arabic idiom "لقد بلغ السيل الزبى"

                Examples as such have happened in real life situations and, fortunately, they were generally a source of humour. Such acculturation attempt cases, I deem, don't harm if they are extra feeds for enriching cultures mutually with borrowed new -though sometimes strange- expressions. To reach perfect understanding between completely dissimilar cultures needs longer time and greater efforts. Technology, once used without prejudice, can shorten the distance and lessen and lighten the burden.

                However, I think we won't wait long until this becomes true thanks to the development of mass media. But until then "Adjectives", among other means, are susceptible to bridge the cultural gaps and to facilitate integration. If adjectives are the basis to a positive interaction between the citizens of the world, I am sure everybody will be happy, glad and pleasured because adjectives are such cheap means for gigantic achievements.

    Deverbal Adjectives Questioned

    Bibliography and Further readings

    1. Agar, M. (1994). Language shock: Understanding the culture of conversation. New York: William Morrow and Company.
    2. Risager, Karen Language and Culture: Global Flows and Local Complexity
    3. Steven L. Thorne . Artifacts and Cultures-of-Use in Intercultural Communication
    4. Julie A. Belz. Linguistic Perspectives on the Development of Intercultural Competence in Telecollaboration

    D O W N L O A D