An adjective is a word like clever, beautiful, green, hungry, brave, which is used when we describe people, things, events etc. Adjectives are used in connection with nouns and pronouns.
- He wore a red shirt.
- We need some square tables.
- Each hand has five fingers.
- You are naughty.
- She is a beautiful girl.
- He is an honest boy.
- This is a wooden chair.
- She wore a gold necklace.
- It was an earthen pot.
- Sugar is sweet.
Position of adjectives
Most adjectives can go in two main positions in a sentence:
a) before a noun (attributive position)
- Our new principal is an old lady.
- He is a clever boy.
b) after be, seem, look and other copular verbs (predicative position)
- I am glad to meet you.
- You don’t look happy to see me.
- The milk turned sour.
- She felt bad.
Adjectives – Attributive position
Attributive adjectives go before the nouns they qualify.
- She is a beautiful (adjective) girl (noun).
- They have a big (adjective) house (noun) in the city.
- This is a vexed (adjective) problem (noun).
- She married a rich (adjective) man (noun).
Attributive adjectives after nouns
1. Attributive adjectives can be put after nouns. This happens in certain fixed phrases.
Examples are: Attorney General, court martial, poet laureate, time immemorial, heir apparent etc.
2. Certain adjectives ending in ‘-ible’ and ‘-able’ are also put after the nouns they qualify.
- We tried all means (noun) possible (adjective). (= We tried all means that were possible)
- Book all the tickets available. (=Book all the tickets that are available)
3. Adjectives are always placed after words like something, everything, anything, nothing, somebody, everybody, somewhere etc.
- Let us go somewhere quiet.
- I heard something interesting today.
- Nothing logical ever happens there.
Adjectives used only in attributive position
Some adjectives are used only in attributive position.
Common examples are: elder, eldest, live, little, mere, sheer etc.
- My elder sister is a doctor.
- Can you eat a live fish?
- They have a nice little house in the city.
- It was sheer madness.
- She is a mere child.
After a verb, other words must be used.
- She is older than me. (NOT …elder than me.)
- The fish is still alive. (NOT … is still live.)
- Their house is small. (NOT … is little)
- The baby fell asleep. (NOT …fell sleeping.)
Adjectives – Predicative position
Adjectives can be placed after be (is, am, are, was, were) and other copular verbs like look, seem, appear, feel etc. In this case, the adjective describes the subject of the sentence.
- She is beautiful.
- Our house is small.
- This car is new, isn’t it?
- She looked tired.
- I felt sorry for her.
- The fish tasted awful.
- I was surprised to hear the news.
- She seemed upset.
Adjectives used only in predicative position
1. Some adjectives beginning with the letter ‘a-‘ are used mainly in predicative position.
Examples are: afraid, afloat, alight, alike, alive, alone, asleep, awake etc.
Before nouns we use other words.
- The baby fell asleep.
- The deer saw a sleeping tiger. (NOT… saw an asleep tiger.)
- He is afraid.
- He is a frightened man. (NOT…an afraid man.)
2. The adjectives ill and well are most common in predicative position.
Before a noun, we use other words.
- She is ill.
- He is an unhealthy child. (NOT… an ill child.)
- Who looks after the sick people? (NOT…ill people.)
- She speaks English well.
- I can speak good English. (NOT…well English.)
Adjectives without nouns
Adjectives are not normally used without nouns.
- He is a cleaver boy (NOT He is a cleaver.)
- She is a beautiful girl. (NOT She is a beautiful.)
There are, however, some exceptions.
The + adjective is often used to talk about certain well known groups of people. The common expressions of this kind are: the blind, the deaf, the rich, the poor, the disabled, the jobless, the young etc.
- The Government should pay attention to the problems of the poor.
- The disabled are God’s special children.
- He is collecting money for the blind.
Points to be noted
1. The above expressions are always plural: the blind means all blind people and the dead means all dead people or the dead people.
2. However, a few fixed phrases like the accused, the deceased, the former etc., can have a singular meaning as well.
- The accused was sent on bail.
- The deceased is survived by his wife and children. (singular)
- The deceased include four women and three children. (plural)
3. Adjectives are not normally used in this way without the. However, adjectives without the can be used after possessives, certain quantifiers (many and more), and in paired structures with and or or.
- Both rich and poor are God’s children. (NOT Both the rich and the poor…)
4. These expressions cannot be used with a possessive ‘s.
The problems of the poor must be properly addressed. (NOT The poor’s problems…)