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Attributive and Predicative Adjectives

Most adjectives can occur both before and after a noun:

the blue sea ~ the sea is blue
the old man ~ the man is old
happy children ~ the children are happy

Adjectives in the first position – before the noun – are called ATTRIBUTIVE adjectives. Those in the second position – after the noun – are called PREDICATIVE adjectives. Notice that predicative adjectives do not occur immediately after the noun. Instead, they follow a verb.

Sometimes an adjective does occur immediately after a noun, especially in certain institutionalised expressions:

the Governor General
the Princess Royal
times past

We refer to these as POSTPOSITIVE adjectives. Postposition is obligatory when the adjective modifies a pronoun:

something useful
everyone present
those responsible

Postpositive adjectives are commonly found together with superlative, attributive adjectives:

the shortest route possible
the worst conditions imaginable
the best hotel available

Most adjectives can freely occur in both the attributive and the predicative positions. However, a small number of adjectives are restricted to one position only. For example, the adjective main (the main reason) can only occur in the attributive position (predicative: *the reason is main). Conversely, the adjective afraid (the child was afraid) can only occur predicatively (attributive: *an afraid child).

We have now looked at the main criteria for the adjective class – gradability, comparative and superlative forms, and the ability to occur attributively and predicatively. Most adjectives fulfil all these criteria, and are known as CENTRAL adjectives. Those which do not fulfil all the criteria are known as PERIPHERAL adjectives.

We will now examine the adjective class in more detail.

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