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Syntactic Roles of Adjectives

Where are adjectives used?

Adjectives are found in various syntactic roles. The main division is whether they are attributive An adjective which is used before a noun. more... or predicative An adjective which is used after a verb. Predicative adjectives may be subject predicatives or object predicatives. more.... But adjectives may also act as a postmodifier of a noun (rather than the normal premodifier), as a noun phrase heads, as clause links, plus other roles rarely found in academic writing.

Attributive Adjectives

Attributive adjectives modify noun phrases and precede the head noun or pronoun (see the noun phrases page See how adjectives are used in noun phrase premodification for examples of where an adjective may occur in a noun phrase.)


"My results show that bees rely on a wide variety of both indigenous and exotic forage." (Masehela 2017).
The adjective wide modifies the noun variety and the adjectives indigenous and exotic modify the noun forage. See more information on the attributive adjectives page See how attributive adjectives are used in noun phrase premodification .

Predicative Adjectives

Predicative adjectives may be subject predicatives A subject predicative complements a subject. more... or object predicatives An object predicative complements an object and occurs with complex transitive verbs. It may be a noun phrase or an adjective phrase. more.... Subject predicatives are the complements of copular verbs; object predicatives follow a direct object and describe that object.

Example Subject Predicative: "For its first half-century, Einstein’s theory was controversial" (Blair, Henriksen, and Hendry 2016).
Einstein’s theory is the subject, was is the copular verb, and controversial is the adjective - a subject predicative.
Object Predicative: "But our new research found something different." (Bennett and Reynolds 2023) The noun something is the object and different is the object predicative. The adjective different is an example of a postposed adjective; it follows the pronoun rather than preceding it. See more information on the predicative adjectives page See more about predicative adjectives .

Postposed Adjectives

A postposed adjective is the postmodifier of a noun (it follows the noun).


"It’s your brain telling you something helpful" (Grové 2019).
The adjective helpful postmodifies the pronoun something. Postposed adjectives often occur with indefinite pronouns An indefinite pronoun substitutes for a noun and indicates an indefinite quantity of the 'thing' or 'people' to which it refers, or something which the writer doesn't wish to specify more precisely. more.... See more examples on the predicative adjectives page See more about predicative adjectives .

Noun Phrase Heads

Some adjectives may be used as the head of a noun phrase.


"Which, if any, of the following have you used for news in the last week?" (Addicoat 2023). The adjective following is here used as a noun. This construction is normally followed by a list. See more examples on the See more examples on the Adjectives as Noun Phrase Heads page See more about adjectives as noun phrase heads .

Adjectives as Clause Linkers

Adjectives are occasionally used, like linking adverbials, to link clauses.


"The mayor of New York got rid of the ban on mobile phones with an argument that this would reduce inequalities. However, as our research shows, the exact opposite result is likely. Worse, allowing phones into schools would harm the lowest achieving and low income students the most." (Beland and Murphy 2015).
The adjective worse links the comment to the previous sentence.

Other Uses of Adjectives

Adjectives may be used in exclamations (Brilliant!) and as detached predicatives (Confusing, I know!).


"Viruses are like that, unpredictable!" (Roossinck 2020)
The adjective unpredictable is a detached predicative. These can appear initially (more usual) or finally (as in this example) in a sentence.
Detached predicatives are not common in academic writing; exclamations are extremely rare.

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