Attributive and Predicative Adjectives


Adjectives are a fundamental part of English grammar; they are words used to describe or modify other words, typically nouns and pronouns. In practice, adjectives can be found in two common positions in a sentence – attributive and predicative. Although such positioning may seem like mere syntax, it significantly influences the adjective’s function and meaning. Let’s take a deep look into the distinction between attributive and predicative adjectives.

Attributive Adjectives

Attributive adjectives are adjectives that directly modify a noun and are usually placed immediately before the noun they modify. They function similarly to the adjective’s original meaning, i.e., they add to (attribute) qualities or features to the noun being described.

Examples of Attributive Adjectives

  • The beautiful flower bloomed in the morning.
  • She has a nice personality.
  • He kicked the soccer ball towards the goal.

In the above examples, beautiful, nice and soccer are all attributive adjectives since they all appear directly before the nouns they are modifying (flower, personality and ball) and provide a quality or characteristic to them.

Predicative Adjectives

Predicative adjectives, in contrast to attributive adjectives, typically follow a verb rather than being placed directly before a noun. They are used to indicate the subject’s state, condition or characteristic rather than directly attributing a quality to a noun. The verbs that typically precede the predicative adjective are linking verbs such as ‘be, seem, look, become’, and so on.

Examples of Predicative Adjectives

  • The flower looks beautiful.
  • Her personality is nice.
  • The ball became soccer.

In the instances given, beautiful, nice and soccer are all predicative adjectives since they follow a verb and describe the subject’s state, condition or characteristic. Notably, they can only be seen after ‘being’ verbs such as ‘is’ or ‘looks’.

Usage of Attributive and Predicative Adjectives

While most adjectives can be employed both attributively and predicatively, some cannot. Specific adjectives are used only attributively, while others are used only predicatively. Understanding this distinction is crucial for proper grammatical application.

Attributive-only Adjectives

These adjectives cannot be used predicatively. For instance, words expressing a key intrinsic property of something, like “main” or “utter”, or adjectives derived from proper nouns, like “Elizabethan” or “Freudian”.

  • The main issue here is the lack of resources.
  • That was an Elizabethan style dress.

Predicative-only Adjectives

These adjectives can only be placed after the verb. Usually, they are used to express feelings. Adjectives such as: “afraid”, “ashamed”, “alone”, “asleep” etc. are examples of predicative-only adjectives.

  • After watching the horror movie, she was afraid.
  • He felt alone even in a crowd.


To summarize, attributive and predicative adjectives occupy different spaces in the syntax of English sentences and, as a result, carry different functions and implications. A comprehensive understanding of these distinctions can greatly enhance your command over the language, allowing you to write and speak with greater confidence and accuracy.

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