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Doing a part-of-speech breakdown on Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian".

He will not see again the freezing kitchenhouse in the predawn dark.

I ran the sentence through a POS website and it marked "freezing" as a noun. That didn't seem right. I even tried flipping the sentence to "I live in a freezing house" and it still labelled "freezing" as a noun.

Edit: Thanks for all the great responses! I'm not used to being able to just talk about English like this with people. It's honestly incredibly exciting.

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  • 33
    Your POS website really is a POS. Jan 27 at 14:28
  • @DJClayworth Comment Gold Medal!!
    – gotube
    Feb 1 at 1:48
  • @djclayworth, any recommendations for a better website?
    – CJHLambert
    Feb 3 at 8:43

7 Answers 7

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It's an adjective, a more intense equivalent of "cold" and opposite to "hot" or "stifling".

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  • It fails all the tests for adjectivehood, and hence is best classified as a VP.
    – BillJ
    Jan 27 at 9:06
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    Disagree. The tests of adjectivehood you use seem arbitrary. To someone learning English, the first test of being an adjective is, "Does it modify a noun?" It directly modifies the noun "kitchenhouse", so it passes that test. Another would be, "Can I replace it with a known adjective?" "He will not see again the cold kitchenhouse..." works.
    – gotube
    Jan 27 at 9:24
  • Aribitary? Of course it modifies "kitchenhouse" -- we know that -- but that doesn't mean it must be an adjective. A wide range of expressions can occur as pre-head modifier, but they are not all adjectives. That "freezing" can be replaced with an adjective like "cold" only proves it is a modifier; it does not accurately identify the part of speech it belongs to. It's vital to distinguish category (POS) and function. See my answer for more evidence.
    – BillJ
    Jan 27 at 9:45
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    @BillJ There's a huge gulf between how the ESL and Linguistics worlds categorize things. For an ESL student, if the function of a word is to directly modify a noun, it's an adjective. I don't see how any of the tests you provide in your answer are practical tests for ESL students.
    – gotube
    Jan 28 at 1:21
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – gotube
    Jan 29 at 23:46
20

Textbooks of English as a Second Language (ESL) call this an extreme adjective.

Extreme adjectives are adjectives with three features:

  1. They have an extreme meaning of a regular adjective.

"extremely cold" = "freezing"

  1. They cannot be compared.

It's 14° more freezing out there than in here.
Today is the most freezing day since 2002.

  1. They are modified by extreme adverbs, and not regular adverbs.

It's absolutely freezing.
It's utterly freezing.
BUT
It's very freezing.
It's rather freezing.
It's a little bit freezing.

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    This seems a standard term in ESL, e.g. in British Council's Learn English which has "freezing" as an example. I don't know if the term is widely used outside ESL, but this is English Language Learners, so it seems the right term.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 27 at 9:45
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    I think it's a relatively simple thing to teach to non-linguistics people. Explaining it on your answer with "Below, asterisks in front of a sentence tells that the sentence is ungrammatical" sounds reasonable. It also helps to normalize it to other people, which is good =) Just like how it's now quite normalized to write not-equal as !=, taking it from programming.
    – justhalf
    Jan 28 at 6:07
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Wikipedia calls this a case of attributive verb, and more specifically a deverbal adjective:

An attributive verb is a verb that modifies (expresses an attribute of) a noun in the manner of an attributive adjective, rather than express an independent idea as a predicate.

Deverbal adjectives often have the same form as (and similar meaning to) the participles (that is, forms ending in -ing and -ed), but behave grammatically purely as adjectives — they do not take objects, for example, as a verb might. For example:

  • It was a very exciting game.

So in your sentence, freezing is a deverbal adjective modifying the noun kitchenhouse.

The freezing kitchenhouse means the kitchenhouse in which it is freezing (cold).

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4

"Freezing" is the present particle of "freeze". Participles are derived from verbs, but they act as adjectives. In the sentence you give, it's clearly modifying "kitchenhouse". What probably caused your software to mark it as a "noun" is that in English, gerunds take the same form as the present participle. Gerunds are also derived from verbs, but act as nouns. For instance, in the sentence "Freezing takes place at zero degrees Celsius", "freezing" is a gerund acting as a noun and serving as the subject of the verb "takes". Apparently whoever programmed the software saw that -ing forms can in some cases be gerunds, and simply had the software classify all such forms as "nouns". It seems that the software was not programmed with the fact in mind that morphologically identical words can be different parts of speech in different contexts. You might want to check whether it marks "dark" as an adjective (in that sentence, it's a noun).

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It is an adjectival phrase formed from the participle of the verb "freeze". Also, the Stanford parser has been around for a long long time and does okay on typical sentences like this one; it correctly identifies "freezing" as "VBG (verb, gerund or present participle)" and that it adjectivally modifies "kitchenhouse". (See the Stanford dependencies manual linked from here.

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Aside from the main question, which has already been answered, I'd like to point out that standard syntax requires 'again' to be at the end of the sentence. Compare "I will never see you again" to "I will never see again you".

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He will not see again the freezing kitchenhouse in the predawn dark.

It's best classified as a verb modifying "kitchenhouse".

“Freezing” differs from participial adjectives in that:

(a) It can’t be modified by “very”: *A very freezing pond”.

(b) It can’t occur as complement to complex-intransitive verbs like become: *”It became quite freezing”.

(c) It can’t occur as complement to complex-transitive verbs like “find”: *”I found it quite freezing”.

The range of expressions that can occur as pre-head modifier to a noun is very large and varied: we don't want to call them all adjectives. “Freezing” doesn’t have the properties of indisputable adjectives and hence can’t belong in that class.

Other similar items include "sleeping" ("a sleeping child"), "gleaming" ("a gleaming showroom"), and "defeated" ("a defeated army").

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    Both "It became freezing" and "I found it freezing" have numerous cites as stand-alone clauses in books.google.com, and I as a native speaker find them perfectly acceptable.
    – prosfilaes
    Jan 27 at 16:51
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    we don't want to call them all adjectives - I hope this isn't an embarrassing question, but: why not? Jan 27 at 17:23
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    In a figurative sense, I think it can work a bit more like an adjective: "I dove into the pond and, though the day was warm, I found the water absolutely freezing". Your first example is a little weird because it's not clear if freezing is meant in the sense of 'extremely cold' or 'solidifying'. Jan 28 at 1:26
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    Isn't the inability to use intensifiers more of a semantic question than a grammatical one? People also object to "very pregnant" and "quite unique", but I don't think that would preclude either of them from being adjectives. Isn't the objection here to "very" and "quite" more a semantic "it's either freezing or it's not", rather than a question of grammar? If one hypothetically allowed differing amounts of "freezing", then "It was freezing in December, but it became very freezing in January." would make perfect sense.
    – R.M.
    Jan 28 at 4:08
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    You're basically claiming that there doesn't exist a class of deverbal adjectives. This is in very clear opposition to what any contemporary linguistic description of English word-formation has to say about the topic. Or do you have a source in which sleeping and freezing as pre-head modifiers are identified as verb phrases?
    – Schmuddi
    Jan 29 at 11:16

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