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Attributive and predicative adjectives, inherent and non-inherent adjectives


5.2 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.

5.3 Inherent and Non-inherent Adjectives

Most attributive adjectives denote some attribute of the noun which they modify. For instance, the phrase a red car may be said to denote a car which is red. In fact most adjective-noun sequences such as this can be loosely reformulated in a similar way:  

 

 

an old man

~a man who is old

difficult questions

~questions which are difficult

round glasses

~glasses which are round

 

 

This applies equally to postpositive adjectives: 

something understood   ~something which is understood  
the people responsible   ~the people who are responsible   

In each case the adjective denotes an attribute or quality of the noun, as the reformulations show. Adjectives of this type are known as INHERENT adjectives. The attribute they denote is, as it were, inherent in the noun which they modify.  

However, not all adjectives are related to the noun in the same way. For example, the adjective small in a small businessman does not describe an attribute of the businessman. It cannot be reformulated as a businessman who is small. Instead, it refers to a businessman whose business is small. We refer to adjectives of this type as NON-INHERENT adjectives. They refer less directly to an attribute of the noun than inherent adjectives do. Here are some more examples, showing the contrast betwen inherent and non-inherent:  

 

 

Inherent

Non-inherent

distant hills

distant relatives

a complete chapter

a complete idiot

a heavy burden

a heavy smoker

a social survey

a social animal

an old man

an old friend

 

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