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Is there some kind of taxonomy for adjectives depending on what entities they describe? For example, charismatic would always be descriptive of a human, tropical would (almost) always describe an environment, and so on.

I'm looking for a taxonomy with a finite set of classes/groups that adjectives would fall into.

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  • Entities are described by nouns. Adjectives describe properties and attributes, not entities or events. A good book to look at in this regard is Frawley's Linguistic Semantics, which has separate chapters for the categories covered by grammatical terms. Feb 21, 2022 at 18:19
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    I've forgotten exactly, but I think Roget's Thesaurus used to group 'classmates' under appropriate domain-related titles. But these 'classmates' would list nouns, then verbs, then adjectives .... Also, the terminology was homespun rather than consensual. Feb 21, 2022 at 19:05
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    "Blonde" is applied to human hair, wood, and some other things, but nobody would say they form a single category. "Hazel" as a modifier applies to plants, wooden objects, and eyes. "Fiery" applies to fires and temperaments. There are many other cases because words are routinely applied across categories based on analogy.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 21, 2022 at 20:14

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The world is infinite and so are its descriptors. The set of adjectives, like nouns and verbs, is open and, at least in English, each set spills over into the next - to speak, a speech, spoken.

But infinite sets can still be managed. The original Roget's Thesaurus gives a classification of words. You may well find your word in here but there's no guarantee (it is not exhaustive). But other thesauri may not help being either alphabetical or simply links to synonyms. The latter is very useful but does not give you a classification.

Wordnet is the go-to place for a taxonomy of English words but still organized as 'related words' instead of a top-down human organized tree like Roget's.

One thing I noticed at Wordnet and realize is true of many dictionaries is that in the definition they -sometimes- (not always or often) give a qualification "of or relating to" or something similar like a broad tag "medical" or "nautical". For example,

"tropical: of weather or climate; hot and humid as in the tropics"

This is still very broad and doesn't give high frequency collocations or intended non-literal usages eg "The air in the engine room of the ocean liner was tropical".

The end result of having a taxonomy would be to help with collocations (does one word go with another usually). Corpus searches often have this ability, like COCA (use the 'context' and 'frequency' tabs).

In the end, I think this means that for any particular word, there might be a way to understand its limitations via dictionaries/thesauri or corpus searches, but I don't think there is a systematic, comprehensive resource with specific enough characterizations that can be used automatically.

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My now deleted comment feels more like an answer to say "No such closed taxonomy can exist other than in the consideration of a defined and limited number of words:

Fascinating question that I am not competent to answer authoritatively. I doubt any one is.

My first thought is that such taxonomy, if it exists, must involve a finite but unbounded set. Dealing with human vocabulary and a finite number of humans it cannot be infinite, but whatever set you devise, another member may be created.

Second thought is that the classes will show up as mutually exclusive, intersections, or unions. The Venn diagram for such a monster will contain a huge number of classes.

Good Luck with the idea. Perhaps a simple version might be attempted with a limited and defined corpus of words.

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