Dec 2

Missing adjectives... -ful and -less

Grammar quirks

Ruthful, reckful, topful... Why not?

Have you ever wondered why can't we say 'ruthful'? Check out some thoughts on this from a language teacher and word-nerd!

Video transcript

Hi I'm Jo Gakonga from ELT and this is Episode three of Grammar Quirks. Today I've got a little something for you that I've entitled 'More or Less' and it's all to do with adjectives which end in the suffix -ful or -less. Let's go!

In English there are quite a lot of adjectives which have the form noun (usually) plus the suffix -ful or -less and whichever one it is is opposite. So, for example, colourful / colourless, painful / painless, thoughtful / thoughtless, hopeful / hopeless.

We have a lot of these - there's plenty of them. But it occurred to me that for some of these one form exists and the other one doesn't. This first came to my notice with a couple of adjectives that are interesting. So one is ruthless. Well there's no ruthful and 'ruth' actually is an archaic adjective meaning a feeling of pity apparently. And the other one was reckless. We can't have reckful and reck apparently again is an archaic verb that means to pay heed to something. So being reckless obviously means not paying heed to anything.

So I started to look into this and I found some interesting things.

First of all I looked at the ones which were nouns plus -less but they didn't have the form of -ful ... wireless, homeless, topless, for example. Not all of these but a lot of them seem to have a noun which is quite concrete to start with.

On the other side of things where we've got the noun plus -ful but we haven't got the -less form there were ones like cheerful, peaceful, beautiful, wonderful... and these are ones which seem to have a noun which was a bit more abstract.

Now I'm not suggesting this works for everything because obviously it doesn't but there seemed to be a kind of a pattern there.

Then of course there were other ones that were different entirely. So there one or two where the noun changed - rightful and wrongful... no wrongless or rightless.

And there were some where only the -ful existed but the opposite wasn't less, it was 'un' something -ful. So for example grateful / ungrateful, skillful / unskillful and successful / unsuccessful.

Then there are other odd examples like awful but awesome is the opposite not awless.

Why are these things like this? Well as usual, I don't know but I just thought it was quite interesting that for some adjectives you've got both forms but for some only one and for some only the other and then other things as well. I hope that's given you a bit more food for thought and thank you very much for watching. Bye.

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