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Adjectival Government

Adjectives can govern other parts of speech in the syntactic construction of a sentence. In English the element that comes after an adjective is a postposition, e. g., in, of, to, from, with, etc. Adjectives rarely “take,” i. e., govern, more than one postposition. Typical of the stylistically more bookish or formal adjectives in –ive is their government of the postposition of; thus the constructions supportive of, derivative of, illustrative of, etc.; but cf. the appearance of to after conducive. When it comes to non-derived adjectives, the typical postposition governed by adjectives is to, toward, with or from. Hence one gets courteous to, patient with, etc.

When contemporary speakers of American English make errors with adjectival government, it is probably not only the result of imperfect learning but also of hypercorrection, i. e., trying to sound “hifalutin.” Thus the error in the public address announcement on New York MTA vehicles that comes on during the cold and flu season warning passengers not to sneeze into their neighbors’ faces. The well-modulated male voice utters a sentence that includes the ungrammatical phrase “be courteous of your fellow-passengers.” Evidently, the person who wrote the text of the announcement wanted to punctuate the content stylistically by giving it the bogus bookishness that comes with having the adjective courteous govern of rather than to.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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