Adjectives appear in different positions in a sentence. The two positions we often encounter are before a noun and after a noun. Adjectives that come after a noun must follow a linking verb.
(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.
Adjectives (in bold) that come before a noun.
- a tropical fish
- a leafless tree
- a tight dress
- a well-stocked shop
an expensive hotel
- Everyone knows a giraffe has a long neck.
- My second-hand car didn’t have air conditioning.
- Will we have starry sky tonight?
- He was found with a fractured skull
- We followed a narrow winding path through the jungle.
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 manager
- a big powerful sound
- a small plastic doll
(2) Adjective that comes after a noun is called a predicative adjective
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 predicate is linked by the verb to be, which is normally a linking verb (also called a copula verb) to the subject. The predicative adjective says something about the subject of the sentence. It may also be referred to as a predicate adjective.
- The scream was loud.
- One of the tables is round.
- The sky looks dark.
- The villagers were friendly towards us.
- The measurement was difficult but accurate.
- That statue of a goddess was bronze and life-size.
- The beef tasted delicious.
- She grew bored being alone.
- The question sounds silly.
- The child remained silent when questioned.
(3) Adjective that comes before or after a noun
Most adjectives can come before and after a noun, but there are some that can only be used as attributive adjectives or as predicative adjectives.
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.
Adjectives that can be used only as attributive adjectives
There are adjectives that can only come before a noun:
- Mike has a little dog.
- Your elder sister is getting married?
- My main problem is money.
Using attributive adjectives as predicative adjectives will result in ungrammatical sentences.
- Not: Mike's dog is little.
- Not: Your sister elder is getting married?
Adjectives that can be used only as predicative adjectives
There are adjectives that can only come after a noun.
- Jane is alone most of the time
- The babies are awake.
- She is afraid of the dark.
- The boys are ready to go.
- The parents were glad about their daughter's success.
- Her mother is seriously ill in hospital.
Using predicative adjectives attributively will result in ungrammatical sentences.
- Not: Alone Jane is most of the time.
- Not: The ready boys are to go.
- Not: The glad parents were about their daughter's success.
(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.