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In the phrase "a stiffening chill", is "stiffening" an adjective? The dictionary says that Stiffening is a present participle of the verb stiffen, or a noun.


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Yes, it is. "Stiffening" is the present participle of the verb "to stiffen." The present participle of nearly all verbs can be used as adjectives.


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Like walking stick, frying pan, or swimming shorts - though I've noticed a tendency to drop the ...ing so we now get fry pan, and swim shorts. How ridiculous! – WS2 Jan 5 at 8:55
You know, I've heard people say 'fry pan' and 'swim shorts', but until now, I never really registered it. Still, relating it to the question, a 'stiff wind' sounds like a strong or unyielding wind, while a 'stiffening wind' sounds like a bracing, cold wind. On that same note, maybe we'd do better to call a 'walking stick' a 'walk stick', for 'walking stick' has always conjured images in my mind of a stick getting up and walking about on its own, like Mickey Mouse's broom in Fantasia. (By the way, I would love to know how you manage to italicize words in comments as I haven't the option.) – Benjamin Harman Jan 6 at 3:28

The word stiffening in this context is indeed an adjective derived from a verb.

My English-German dictionary tells me, it is an adjective. Source

stiffening {adj}

In German, we call something like this a pseudo-participle.

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It is an attributive verb and more specifically a deverbal adjective.

Attributive verb is a verb that expresses the attribute of a noun.

A deverbal adjective is the one which is same or similar in form as participles but behave grammatically as adjectives.

It was a very intimidating thought.

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Have you supporting references for your answer? – Edwin Ashworth Jan 5 at 15:56

Clearly the use is adjectival, and the form is a verb in present participle form. I would cautiously argue this might be a gerundive, oft thought not to exist in English. I think the question is whether stiffening describes whether the chill itself is becoming stiff (in which case it's merely a participle), or whether it indicates something else is (e.g. the person the chill hits). I think the latter is the case. Therefore, at least according to this, it might be a gerundive.

On the other hand the existence of such a part of speech in English appears controversial: "There is no grammatical equivalent [to the Latin gerundive] in English, and the term is rarely used" (Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar, 2014).; in that case I would suppose it is an adjective derived from the verb taking the form of the present participle.

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I am not a language scholar, but I found this answer very informative. I'd say that the word in question is functioning as an adjective even if this rare part of speech is the more technical answer. – TecBrat Jan 5 at 17:08
If you are sailing in a stiffening breeze, the wind is getting stronger, and it is time to think about reefing. However, stiffening ribs in a structure make the structure stronger. – Brian Drummond Jan 5 at 17:22
@BrianDrummond that's partly my fault. The question isn't 'a stiffening breeze' (as I miscopied, and which means exactly what you say) but 'a stiffening chill' (now edited to fix it). Does a 'a stiffening chill' mean a chill that is intensifying? Or one that makes one stiff with cold? On reflection I think it's different from the chewing gum example ('gum which should be chewed') which is closer to a Latin gerundive. – abligh Jan 5 at 17:25
If you can talk about a "stiff chill" - I think you can, as with a breeze - then surely either is a valid interpretation, resolved by context - e.g. "nightfall brought on a stiffening chill", suggests increasing cold as time passes. – Brian Drummond Jan 5 at 17:34

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