In phrases of the form [adjective] [noun], the adjective is often being used to narrow the set described by the noun alone. For example, "red cars" narrows the set of cars to only include ones that are red.

I am looking for a special case in which an adjective elevates the phrase to be more inclusive. This could conceivably happen with a very common adjective-noun pair that is used so often that the noun alone gets "left behind" in the language. Can you think of any examples of this?

  • I have a similar question here on EL&U where I give a technical example of this from mathematics, "weak topology". In mathematics, the adjective "weak" is commonly used as broadening in this sense. Another example is "left differentiability" and "right differentiability", which are both weaker than "differentiability". I can also think of an entire class of examples arising as a result of synecdoche: for example "America" and "North America". Sep 27, 2022 at 23:26

1 Answer 1


Consider the following three examples:

  • Plenary, meaning full. This occurs in two common phrasings. The first is plenary session of some convocation, which is open to all attendees and the second is a plenary indulgence of the Catholic Church, an act which removes all punishment for confessed sin. (In contrast, a partial indulgence removes only some temporal punishment.)
  • Plenipotentiary, meaning granted full powers, applied to governmental officials who have full power to represent the state. A Minister Plenipotentiary or an Ambassador Plenipotentiary outrank ordinary ministers and ambassadors.
  • General, as opposed to special. This usage shows up as a legal term of art in general power of attorney, in which one person, the grantor, appoints an agent to act in any capacity that the grantor could. Such an agent is more trusted than one granted only a special power of attorney, which restricts the agent to specific actions in a limited set of situations.
  • Great. Another driveby downvote, a curse upon this site.
    – deadrat
    Feb 3, 2016 at 3:23

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