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Is the adjective only in the sentence "It seemed a locked door between the world and me was the only satisfactory arrangement" a descriptive adjective or a classifying adjective? We need to deliver a presentation analysing an excerpt from a text from the standpoint of grammar. I chose adjectives and I cannot decide whether the adjective 'only' is a descriptor or a classifier. I need to conclude with a statistic of these categories.

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  • Hello theSleepyOwl, and welcome to ELL! Could you please use the "Edit" button under your question and tell us what you already know about these different categories of adjective, and why you think "only" might belong to one or the other? Thanks!
    – gotube
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 1:47

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A classifying adjective is one that determines which class, or group something belongs to. The definition of 'classification' is "the systematic arrangement in groups or categories according to established criteria".

Think of classification as like sorting things into piles. For example, if you had a list of statements and you had to divide them into two piles - statements that are "true" and those which are "untrue" - you are classifying them as one or the other. There can be any number of 'classes', but without at least 2 there is no classification.

As an adjective, "only" means that there is just one of something within already specified parameters. It is not a classifying adjective because the thing it describes has already been classified.

In your example, the classifying adjective is 'satisfactory'. If there are satisfactory arrangements, then logically there are unsatisfactory ones. The classification took place when all possible arrangements have been considered, and 'sorted' into those piles. There could be many in the 'unsatisfactory' pile, but there is just one that is satisfactory - the only one.

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  • Thank you for your answer, I didn't consider putting 'satisfactory' into the classifying adjectives group, it is clearly a distinction that I don't quite fully grasp still... While trying to search for answers, I've actually come across a comment that says that 'unique' is a classifying adjective however, so now I am even more confused.. Here's the link: thoughtco.com/what-is-classifying-adjective-1689753 Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 13:30
  • @theSleepyOwl On consideration, I've taken that line out of my answer, as it was wrong. I have to agree, "unique" is a classifying adjective, because something can either be unique, or not. There are many things that are unique, so that is a classification. However, I believe my answer stands - saying something is the "only" thing does not classify it. I'll add a little to my answer now to try and clarify..
    – Astralbee
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 21:50

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