Positions of Adjectives

Classifying Adjectives Based in Their Positions

Adjectives can be classified according to their position in relation to the nounOpens in new window or where they occur in sentences.

Based in the position adjectives occur in sentences, there are two uses of adjectives:

  1. Attributive use Opens in new window, and
  2. Predicative use Opens in new window.
  • When an adjective is used before a noun, it is called attributive use.
  • When it is used after a verb, it is called predicative use

1.   Attributive Adjectives

Adjectives that are placed before a noun are called attributive adjectives. These adjectives occur before the head noun and modifies it.

For Example:
  • The slick painting is his.
  • They employed a new secretary.
  • The book contain secret information.

Kinds of Attributive Adjectives

Adjectives that appear before the head noun in a sentence include the following:

1.1  Attributive – Only Adjective

A number of adjectives including drunken, erstwhile, eventual, future, mere, principal, and utter, can only modify head nouns, that is, they appear only in the attributive position before head nouns.

Examples include:
  • Gretchen saw one of her former friends. (she saw one of her friends who is former)
  • She thought that he was an utter fool. (In terms of being a fool, he was utter)
Important Hint!  

Note that some types of attributive–only adjectives can be established on the basis of meaning.

Sometimes the adjectives are attributive–only just in contexts where they are not expressing a property that is inherent to the person or thing indicated by the head noun.

For example:

Using the word, new, we can say:

  • Her new employee.
  • But we cannot say:
  • Her employee is new;
  • Yet we can say both:
  • His new bag
  • His bag is new

The reason is that new expresses a property that is an inherent characteristic of the bag but not of the person.

1.2  Numerals

NumeralsOpens in new window will always precede the nouns they modify. Any time some numeral functions as an adjective, it will be either of two forms:

  1. a cardinal adjective or
  2. an ordinal adjective.

The difference between these two terms is that cardinal adjectives are words that are used when counting something, such as one, two, three, etc.

Examples include:
  • We planted five seeds yesterday.
  • Gretchen was so hungry that she finished three plates of noodles.
  • Empress Publishers will publish ten books today.

Ordinal numeralsOpens in new window, on the other hand, indicate position, such as first, second, third, etc.

Examples include:
  • That was the first interview I've had since graduation.
  • That board meeting is the fourth that I've witnessed since my appointment here.
  • This is the sixth new phone you have bought since you and I became friends.

Other numerals include those which do not indicate the exact number such as all, many, few, several and some.

Consider the following examples:
  • All men are mortal.
  • Before the event commenced Several guidelines were given.

The adjectives such as each, every, either and neither are used when the persons or things are taken one at a time.

For Example:
  • Every student is expected to use the Ifioque.com website.
Important Hint!  

Note that if both numeral and possessive adjectives precede a noun, then the numeral adjective must come before the possessive one.

For Example:
  • All his relatives are graduates.
  • Not His all relatives …

Exceptions to the rules

There are a few exceptions as some adjectives tend to occur after the nouns they modify. Adjectives that fall under this group include:

1.   Indefinite pronouns and adjectives

If there is an indefinite pronoun (something, nothing, anybody, nobody, etc) in the sentence, the adjective must follow it.

Consider the example below:
  • He has nothing useful to say.
  • This time around, we’ve brought something different.

2.  More than one adjective

When more than one adjectives are used together for the same noun, it’s better to keep them after the noun.

For Example:
  • God is the maker of all things—visible and invisible, animate and inanimate.
  • Likewise, if an adjective is used for a title, it comes after the noun, for example: “Alexander the Great.”
Important Hint!  

Remember in the beginning, we stressed that when an adjective is used before a noun, it is called Attributive Use, which led us to the study of Attributive adjectives. And that when an adjective is used after a verb, it is called Predicative Use.

Now we are done exploring the Attributive use. In the next segment, we look at the Predicative Use, and in so doing we study ….

2.   Predicative Adjectives

Adjectives that appear after a verbOpens in new window are called predicative adjectives. They may describe the subjectOpens in new window or an objectOpens in new window of the sentence.

Examples include:
  • The mission is interesting.
  • You have got your priorities wrong.
  • She found him admirably thoughtful.

To aid our understanding of predicative adjectives, it is important that we closely study the group of adjectives with the prefix –a.

These sorts of adjectives are called A – Adjectives. They may only be used as predicatives (i.e., they come after a linking verbOpens in new window).

For Example:
  • The frog is alive.
  • The child is awake.

The most common of the so-called a–adjectives are ablaze, afloat, afraid, aghast, alert, alike, alive, alone, adrift, aloof, ashamed, asleep, averse, awake, aware.

Examples include:
  • The children were ashamed.
  • The professor remained aloof.
  • The trees were ablaze.
  • How long will you have been asleep?
Important Hints! 
  • Occasionally, you will find A–adjectives before the word they modify: “The alert patient”, “The aloof physician”.
  • Most of them, when found before the word they modify, are themselves modified: “The nearly awake student”, “The terribly alone scholar”.
  • Sometimes A–adjectives can be modified by very much: “... very much afraid”, “...very much alone”, “...very much ashamed”, etc.

Now, we examine some adjectives that can be used in both ways.

Adjectives That Can Be Used Attributively and Predicatively

Some Adjectives can appear both in attributive positions (preceding a noun) and predicative positions (following a linking verb), such adjectives that fall under this category include the following:

1.  Participial Adjective

A number of adjectives, including participial adjectivesOpens in new window, can appear in both attributive and predicative positions. This is shown below:

Attributive position:
  • The school has a really exciting syllabus
Predicative position:
  • The school’s syllabus is really exciting
Attributive position:
  • He gave an interesting talk.
Predicative position:
  • His talk was interesting.

Participial adjectives appearing in predicative positions after the be verb, as in the last example, means we need to be able to recognize and differentiate between participial adjectives and verb participles.

A suitable test used to distinguish between them involves degree adverbs such as very or too. Only adjectives can be modified by these two words, as shown below:

Present participial adjective:
  • Her story was very frightening.
Verb participle:
  • Andy was very frightening.
Past participial adjective:
  • Andy was too startled to move.
Verb participle:
  • Andy was too startled by his boss.

Problem of ambiguity can occur with past participial adjectives; that is, you cannot tell whether it is acting as a past participial adjective or as a verb past participle, as shown below:

  • The facility is closed at five o’clock.

Past participial adjectives typically describe a state of being. For example:

  • The vase is broken

With the past participial adjective, broken means the vase is in the state of being broken. If closed, (as in the earlier example), it is acting as a participial adjective, then the sentence can be rephrased as:

  • At five o’clock, the facility is no longer open→ (i.e., is in the state of being closed).

However, if closed is a past participle in a sentence in the passive voice, then the sentence can be rephrased as At five o’clock someone closed the facility.

A number of past participles such as assembled, broken, and smashed are often ambiguous; they can be interpreted either as adjectives indicating a state or as participles expressing the passive voice. The context will usually indicate which meaning is meant.

2.  Postpositive Adjective

There are certain adjectives that when combined with a number of words are always postpositive.

In other words, they always follow the noun/pronoun they modify.

For Example:
  • The president elect.
  • Something important.
  • A place worth seeing.
  • Nothing serious.

Postpositive adjectives can also take the form of a verb with an –ed ending.

For Example:
  • Something borrowed.
  • Those concerned.
Important Hint!  

Note that some adjectives may be used only as postpositives and cannot be placed elsewhere in a sentence.

For Example:
  • Entertainment aplenty.
  • Time immemorial.
    See next pages.
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