An adjective comes either before or after the noun that it modifies. (She is a tall girl. She is quite tall for her age.) Most adjectives appear before a noun and they are called the attributive adjectives. Adjectives that come after the noun must follow a linking verb, and they are known as the predicative adjectives. Most adjectives can be in either position, but some adjectives use only one of these positions, either before the noun or after the noun.
Those adjectives that come immediately after the noun that they modify are called postpositive adjectives.
(1) Adjective that comes before a noun is called an attributive adjective
The attributive adjective modifies the noun that follows it. There can be more than one attributive adjective appearing side-by-side to modify the same noun.
Attributive adjectives (in bold) that come before a noun.
- a tropical fish
- a leafless tree
- a tight dress
- a well-stocked shop
- an expensive hotel
- Not everyone knows a giraffe has a long neck.
- My second-hand car is the noisiest in the neighbourhood.
- Will we have starry sky tonight?
- He was found with a fractured skull.
- We followed a narrow winding path through the forest.
More than one adjective can appear side-by-side to modify the same noun.
- an ugly old witch
- a funny little clown
- a tall young soldier
- a loud distant sound
- a cheap plastic doll
Some adjectives however are only attributive adjectives, which can only come immediately before a noun and not anywhere else in the sentence. These adjectives include the following: chief, elder, former, indoor, inner, main, mere, only, outdoor, outer, particular, principal, sole and upper. Using attributive adjectives as predicative adjectives will result in ungrammatical sentences.
- His elder sister is getting married to her elder brother.
(Not: Your sister elder is getting married to her brother elder.)
- I met my former wife.
(Not: I met my wife who was former.)
- Mike has a little dog.
(Not: Mike's dog is little.)
- My main problem is money.
- This pair of boots cost a mere thirty dollars.
- The weather was the chief reason for calling off the rescue operation.
- The witnesses were the principal source of information about the crime.
(2) Adjective that comes after a noun is called a predicative adjective
A predicative adjective in a sentence appears after a noun which is also the subject. The predicative adjective modifies the noun that comes before it. It acts as a predicate as it completes the meaning of the predicate in the sentence. The predicative adjective says something about the subject of the sentence. It may also be referred to as a predicate adjective. The predicative adjective does not appear immediately after the noun. The noun is usually followed by a linking verb be (am, is, are, was, were, appear, look, taste, etc). The predicative adjective comes after the linking verb and also acts as a complement.
· The girl looks happy.
In the sentence, looks is a linking verb. The word happy is an adjective which is also a complement. The adjective happy together with the verb looks completes the predicate of the sentence, and not surprisingly is called predicative adjective. A predicative adjective modifies the subject of the sentence.
We can make use of a predicative adjective when we do not want to place the adjective, which describes a noun, before the noun. We can say or write “The girl is happy”, instead of “The happy girl …….” In such arrangement, we use the linking verb (is) to join the predicative adjective (happy) to the subject (the girl).
The following examples show in bold the predicative adjectives and the preceding auxiliary verbs
- The duck soup is hot and spicy.
(Not: The hot and spicy duck soup.)
- She was short, fat and beautiful.
- That statues of goddesses are bronze and life-size.
- The measurements were difficult but accurate.
- The stranger looks scary.
- The boss appears angry.
- This milk tastes sour.
- The question sounds silly.
- I soon grew bored listening to his horror story.
- The suspect remained silent when questioned.
There are adjectives that can be used only as predicative adjectives. A group of these adjectives begins with the alphabet a (ablaze, adrift, afloat, afraid, aghast, alert, alike, alive, alone, aloof, ashamed, asleep, averse, aware, awake) and they usually come after a linking verb. Other examples of predicative adjective that cannot appear before a noun are content, far, fine, glad, ill, near, pleased, poorly, ready, sorry, unwell, upset, well, etc.
- His house was ablaze when he reached there.
(We cannot say ‘ablaze house’)
- The old man was spotted adrift on his boat after the storm.
- They managed to keep their boat afloat through the storm.
- Her child is afraid of scarecrows.
(We cannot say ‘afraid child’)
- The man was aghast at the sight of his house completely burned down.
- They were alert for pickpockets while they were at the airport.
- The two clowns look alike.
(Not: The two alike clowns.)
- She lived alone for many years.
- His slurred speech keeps him aloof from his work colleagues.
- He was ashamed to admit he couldn’t swim.
- My grandpa is asleep but seems awake.
- Our neighbor is strongly averse to dogs.
- We were not aware that the family had migrated.
- Their parents were glad that our parents could meet them.
- We are ready to go.
- The doctor is seriously ill in the hospital.
(3) Adjective that comes before and after the noun
Most adjectives can come before and after a noun that it modifies in a sentence without affecting its meaning.
For example, we can say, “The blue sky …” or “The sky is blue.” This indicates that the adjective blue can be used as an attributive adjective or a predicative adjective. Either way, the adjective modifies the same subject sky. When changing an attributive adjective to a predicative adjective, we use a linking verb which in this example is is.
- We had a week of cloudless skies.
- For a week, we had skies that were cloudless.
- He is a highly intelligent person.
- He is highly intelligent.
- The leaves looked slightly red.
- She uses red lipstick.
- He won the so intense competition for the best chef.
- He won the competition, which was so intense, for the best chef.
- He won the best chef competition, which was so intense..
- I have travelled only a short distance to meet you fellows.
- We must keep the meeting short.
- Police ensured tight security around the airport.
- As I grow bigger, my jeans have become too tight.
- People in the region live on low incomes.
- The demand for meat remains low.
- There is heavy traffic on the roads.
- The rain is getting quite heavy.
(4) Attributive and predicative adjectives in same sentence
An adjective can take up any position in a sentence, preferably close to the noun that it describes. More than one adjective can appear in a sentence, describing the same noun. The adjectives are in bold in the following sentences.
- The pretty girl is angry with her boyfriend.
- The warm air is thick with dust.
- His big house must be expensive to maintain.
- The ugly scarecrow appears scary in the dark.
(5) Postpositive adjective
Adjectives coming immediately after noun or pronoun are called postpositive adjectives.
- As it was getting dark, we took the shortest way possible.
- The only ferry available charged a higher fare.
- Someone had left the window open.
- The prince is the heir apparent to the throne.
- The one responsible for the mess must clear it up.
- He clever at mathematics got full marks for the mathematics test.
- Only those present are allowed to vote.
- She furious with him vowed never to see him again.
An adjective comes after an indefinite pronoun: anyone, everything, someone, something, etc. that the adjective modifies.
- Anyone guilty of the offence will not escape punishment.
- Everything valuable was destroyed in the fire.
- She's looking for someone rich to marry.
- Last night, we saw something bright streaking across the sky.
Adjectives and determiners
An adjective usually comes between a determiner and the noun, making the adjective easy to identify. The determiners are the definite article (the) and the indefinite articles (a, an).
- the bushy eyebrows
- a big stomach
- an unknown planet