Keith Kelly looks at examples of the language of measuring in geography, covering structures including adjectives and adverbs, nouns and word formation.

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Adjectives and adverbs

There is a group of frequently occurring adjectives used for describing size, distance and shape. They behave according to rules for adjectives in general and the following examples are offered in opposite pairs.

deep: The river plunges over the waterfall and erodes a deep pool beneath the falling water.
shallow: Some plants like cacti have shallow roots spread outwards in order to collect more water when it rains.
far: Winds can cause acid rain to fall far from its region of origin.
near: Industry tends to be located near cities or large towns and provides employment for many workers living nearby.

Adjectives / adverbs are also used for describing representative quantity and quality

average: Glaciers move at average speeds of between tens and hundreds of metres a year.
mean: Work out the mean rainfall for the four wettest months of the year.
precisely: Measure precisely the distance between points A and B on the map.
inaccurate: Do you think the picture presents a fair or an inaccurate view of the roles of men and women?

(Note: in some compound phrases involving numbers, the adjective comes after the measurement noun: two metres high, three hundred metres deep, two hours long)


nouns referring to quantity, scope or degree of something
(amount, level, extent, measurement, range, speed, accuracy, size, span, rate, scale)
amount: The amount of abrasion depends on the ability of the waves to pick up rock fragments from the shore.
span: Each age group in the graph covers a twenty-year span.

nouns used to measure what is typical within a group
(average, mean)
average: The North has suffered unemployment rates that are higher than average.

nouns which describe parts or sections of something
(stage, step)
stage: Rivers receive waters from many tributaries before they reach the mature stage.

nouns meaning a carefully examination
(check, study, survey)
check: Surveys are carried out each year as a check on the size of fish populations.

nouns to do with mathematical shape
(area, circumference, cross-section, diameter, radius)
radius: Most of the city’s major facilities are within this area, which has a radius of about 20 km.

compound nouns with a noun + noun pattern
twenty-kilometre-long: The coastline suffered a twenty-kilometre-long oil slick.

Word formation

nouns formed from adjectives by adding suffixes –th and -ness
(depth, length, width)
length: If the scale of a map is 1cm to 1km, a length of four centimetres on the map would represent four kilometres on the ground.

(hardness, thickness, nearness, richness, competitiveness, openness, weakness, coarseness, smoothness, steepness, heaviness)
thickness: The ocean crust averages 8km in thickness, and can be as thin as 3km in some areas.

nouns formed from verbs by adding suffix -ment
(development, movement, measurement)
movement: Give reasons for the movement of people from East to Western Europe post 1989 and describe its effects on where the people settled.

(height, weight)
height: A mountain is a steep-sided landform which is normally over 400 metres in height.

measurement verbs formed without change to the root form
(to reach, to check, to record, to span, to extend, to range)
reach: Deserts summer daytime temperatures can reach higher than 45°C.
check: Now check your answers with your teacher or classmates.
record: Meteorologists observe, measure and record the weather at numerous places at a particular time and plot these weather conditions on a weather chart.
span: The life cycles of some desert plants span only a few weeks.
extend: The built-up area extends more than 3km from the city centre.

verb phrases formed by adding adverb particles and prepositions
range from: The hills range from small mounds just a few metres long to a few kilometres in length and 100 metres high.
slow down: When a river enters a body of water it is forced to slow down and deposit its load.

verb phrases formed by adding -en to the root word
(to widen, to shorten, to lengthen, to deepen, to heighten – this also give us further nouns: widening; and adjectives: road-widening)
widen: A floodplain widens over time and the valley sides becomes less steep.
widening: The widening of the river banks is called lateral erosion.
road-widening: Road-widening works are carried out to improve traffic flow.



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