6

This laptop is worth $140.

Here worth does not need a following preposition. However, when I say, for example:

I am curious about his motivation behind his decision.

The word curious is an adjective and I have to have a preposition about afterwards. My question is :

Are there similar adjectives to worth in this respect?

  • 2
    Good question. Worth is a very unusual word; it seems to be midway between a preposition and an adjective. Words from the Commercial Transaction Frame all have interesting and unusual meaning and usage. For instance, consider value, worth, cost, and price. – John Lawler May 27 '18 at 16:01
6

Worth is a member of a class of adjectives known as transitive adjectives: those that require or permit a complement. Such complements are often prepositional phrases (proud of, delighted with, successful at) or infinitives (eager/reluctant/important to do something). A very limited number of adjectives in this class take a noun phrase as a complement:

The pass is valid two months, and a special 20-kilogram baggage allowance is included. — David Stanley, South Pacific Handbook, 2000, 270.

I would always say that I was always short five dollars when it should be nickels and dimes. — Brasford Love, My Life: The Journey to Here, 2015.

With quantified amounts, short may also follow the noun phrase: five dollars short, but always short the necessary funds.

An investor can also be long or short a stock:

For example, when someone buys a stock, he is long a stock. A long position holder benefits when the price of the asset appreciates as he can sell it at a higher price.

Worth is unique in the variety of complements it may take:

In short, many fraud cases involve losses on such a small scale that it is not worth the effort of installing controls to ensure that it does not happen. — Steven M. Bragg, The Essential Controller, 2012.

I couldn’t imagine a Saturday without “U”
For it would be incomplete
Not worth being placed on my calendar
Not worth my time
Not worth the breath I breathe
Not worth anything. — Cortez Jordan, “Dominique,” Words, Words, Time, 2012, 26.

In his Language Log, Geoffrey Pullum lists a new pair of antonymic transitive adjectives in investment jargon:

UBS says it is cautious on banks globally, and is underweight European and Japanese banks and neutral on U.S. banks. The broker is overweight Canadian and emerging market banks.

Overweight means overinvested in a firm, sector, currency, etc., while underweight means the opposite.

A reader commented that carpenters say a board is proud a sixteenth, meaning that the board is a sixteenth of an inch too long and thus must — literally — be cut down to size.

Another reader noted the slang usage I’m good x dollars, meaning x dollars more than needed.

As you see, worth is not the only adjective that can take a noun phrase complement, but it is by far the most common to do so.

  • Many "intransitive adjectives" take complements - just not noun phrases, exactly like intransitive verbs. – Araucaria May 27 '18 at 23:02
  • @Araucaria: I prefer Trask's categorization so that adjectives with an NP complement are a subclass rather than complete anomalies. – KarlG May 27 '18 at 23:59
4

Adjectives most often take preposition phrases, or clauses as Complements. However, very few of them can take noun phrase Complements. There are, nonetheless, four common adjectives that are traditionally recognised to take noun phrase Complements: like, unlike, worth, and due.

  • John is very like [his father]
  • It was unlike [anything I had ever seen]
  • It's not worth [ten poundds]
  • We are due [twenty hour of overtime]

These adjectives are sometimes known as transitive adjectives after Fowler because, like transitive verbs, they don't require a preposition before the noun phrase.

In American English the adjective short can also be transitive, in which case it often takes a measure phrase as a Complement:

  • We were short [two guests]

In British English, two guests would be more likely to appear as a modifier:

  • We were two guests short

There are other adjectives relating to the world of commerce which take noun phrase Complements. Geoffrey Pullum discusses some of these here: New transitive adjectives.


Most of this information can be found in The Cambridge grammar of the English language, by Huddleston & Pullum (2002, p546).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.