Attributive Adjective

Positions of Attributive Adjectives in Sentences

An Attributive Adjective is part of a noun phraseOpens in new window and follows the nounOpens in new window directly, agreeing with it in genderOpens in new window, numberOpens in new window, caseOpens in new window, and definiteness.

Most English adjectives can go before, and modify, nouns, as in big houses, an expensive car and an original idea.

For example:

In English, attributive adjectives occur before the head noun in a sentence and modify it.

Observe the following sentences.

Contrary to attributive adjectives are predicate adjectivesOpens in new window, that can go in the position following copular verbs.

Kinds of Attributive Adjectives

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

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:

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, with new,
  • we can say her new employee but not Her employee is new;
  • and yet we can say both his new bag and 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.

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: a cardinal adjective, or 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:

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

Examples include:

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

Consider the following examples:

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

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:

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.

Consider the example below: