Attributive Adjectives

What are Attributive Adjectives?

We use descriptive adjectives to give additional information to nouns in phrases and sentences. Unlike other types of adjectives, descriptive ones modify their subjects by describing their quantity, size, shape, age, color, etc. Descriptive adjectives could appear either before the words they modify or after. In this article, we will learn about adjectives that are located right beside their antecedents, and these are called attributive adjectives.

In English grammar, an attributive adjective is typically placed directly before its antecedent. For example:

  • Her family lives in a big house.
  • My friends and I had an awesome weekend in the mountains.
  • His gentle manner is the thing that struck me the most.
  • This is the best moment in Gerardo’s life.
  • There were blue splotches spread across the painting.

In some cases, however, attributive adjectives can come after the words they modify, which then are considered postpositive adjectives. Note that postpositive adjectives are not separated by linking verbs or other words. Nevertheless, they can appear in a phrase with superlative adjectives. Here are some examples:

  • Gillian noticed something strange in the house.
  • It’s a well-known fact that cheetahs are the fastest animals alive.
  • He didn’t want anything complicated on the dinner menu.
  • His daughter said she wanted everything purple that’s sold in the store.
  • This is the biggest pie imaginable.

Note that adjectives placed after their antecedents with verbs in between are called predicative adjectives.

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Attributive Adjectives Rules

ComparativeThe comparative form of attributive adjectives is used to compare two nouns or pronouns. They end with the suffix -er or use the words more or less.– The taller man is carrying a duffel bag.
– It’s better to bring a stronger flashlight.
– Where can I find a larger party space?
SuperlativeThe superlative form of descriptive adjectives is used to compare more than two nouns or pronouns. They end with the suffixes -st, -est, or -ist or use the words most or least. They’re also preceded by the word ‘the.’– She is the most iconic pop star of the century.
– Finland is said to be the happiest country in the world.
– That was my father’s most expensive purchase this year.
IrregularAlmost all basic or positive descriptive adjectives can assume their comparative and superlative forms. However, there are several irregular adjectives that change spelling when they are used in comparisons.bad:
– worse (comparative)
– worst (superlative)

– better (comparative)
– best (superlative)

– farther (comparative)
– farthest (superlative)
PredicativesSome adjectives can only be used predicatively and can never come before their antecedents. – Tita’s children are asleep. (never “asleep children”)
– My uncle man lives alone. (never “alone uncle”)
– The boat remained afloat despite the waves. (never “afloat boat”)
OrderThere can be multiple adjectives describing one noun or pronoun in a sentence. In cases when the adjectives belong to different categories (e.g. quantity, origin, material, etc.), the adjectives follow an order according to their purposes.– The museum acquired five vintage cars. (not “vintage five cars…”)
Some interesting ceramic murals were on sale tonight. (not “some ceramic interesting murals…”)
– This yellow cleansing agent is very effective. (not “cleaning yellow agent…”)
Attributive Adjectives Rules Table
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Examples of Attributive Adjectives

Here are examples that show the various ways we can use attributive adjectives in sentences. Note that wherever they are in sentences they’re always next to the nouns they modify.

Before nouns: 

  • His young friend smiled at him.
  • I have a sudden craving for spicy food.
  • Are you joining us at the Japanese restaurant?
  • The delivery guy that came to the house had curly hair.
  • There were five people in the car.

With superlative adjectives and after nouns for more emphasis:

  • This is the latest model available.
  • Are you satisfied with the report presented?
  • Our summer holiday was the most economical trip imaginable.
  • Can you take the fastest way possible?
  • The strongest therapist available in the clinic is Matthew.

After indefinite pronouns:

  • I want to eat someplace nice.
  • Damian will visit us sometime soon.
  • We should call someone else to take a look. 
  • Please keep the money somewhere safe.
  • He gave me something beautiful for my birthday.

Attributive Adjectives Exercises with Answers

Exercise on Attributive Adjectives

Decide whether the adjectives in bold are attributive or predicative:

1. They were grilling barbecue ribs in the backyard.

2. The team was exhausted after their field trip.

3. I’m not sure why but this is an excellent plan.

4. Alena was popular in high school for her special talents.

5. Everyone thought the news about his resignation was surprising.

6. Katya’s friends were hanging out on the front porch.

7. Walking alone in this neighborhood after hours is quite reckless.

8. Tae Hyung looked shocked when he spotted me in the crowd.

9. A small group of kids gathered around the puppy that Linh brought to school.

10. Yamamoto didn’t think the joke was funny.


1. attributive

2. predicative

3. attributive

4. attributive

5. predicative

6. attributive

7. predicative

8. predicative

9. attributive

10. predicative

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Attributive Adjectives List

The following is a table of attributive adjectives listed according to their categories and their correct grammatical sequence when multiple adjectives are used to modify one antecedent.

1quantityseven, whole, few, half, a dozen
2opinionclean, scrumptious, livid, understanding, generous 
3sizelarge, small, massive, tiny, gargantuan
4physical qualityslimy, thorny, cute, handsome, thin
5shapecircular, square, triangular, curvy, straight
6age/conditionyoung, ancient, new, contemporary, vintage
7colorbrown, cobalt, scarlet, silver, yellow
8origin/ethnicity/subjectThai, Vietnamese, Catholic, Indian, Native American
9materialceramic, clay, brick, glass, stone
10purposeassessment, dinner, secondary, main, artistic
Table for Attributive Adjective Categories

Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners

Incorporating descriptive adjectives into sentences adds depth and precision to your speech, allowing people to comprehend it more accurately. You can also convey ideas in a much more eloquent way. This is because few parts of speech are as persuasive and prolific as adjectives; they allow seemingly simple sentences to become memorable and vivid.

Also, with such an extensive selection of synonyms matching each adjective, it can be simpler to express varying intensities or degrees of topics. For instance, a person who is “sad” may not be as sorrowful as one who is “dejected.” In the same manner, a “tedious” task is significantly more challenging than one deemed simply “boring.”

Adjectives lend themselves to any kind of conversation in the English language. Such an extensive range of words may be overwhelming for English language learners. So, to properly utilize them, it’s necessary to understand each type of adjective and increase familiarity. Taking time to read multiple sources and engage in regular practice can greatly improve English skills; however, making mistakes during this process is likely unavoidable.

The following sections will cover common errors made by ESL learners concerning attributive adjectives and suitable approaches for effective learning habits. Additionally, it is important for learners to properly understand Absolute Adjectives and Compound Adjectives.

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Common Errors Made by English Learners

With the confusing nature of adjectives and their various types, English language learners make common errors when using them. To prevent making recurring mistakes, you must be aware of the usual pitfalls. Here is a list of common errors to help you apply your knowledge of attributive adjectives properly.

Common ErrorsExplanation
Postpositive vs Predicative AdjectivesLinking verbs (such as the forms of -be, seems, feels, etc.) appear between an antecedent and a predicative adjective. The predicative adjective comes after the verb. For example, “They are happy.”

Meanwhile, postpositive adjectives appear directly after their antecedents with no other words in between. These instances are usually rare. For example “Please buy her something useful.”
Attributives and PredicativesNote that there are adjectives that can only be used attributively and adjectives that can be used predicatively. An “awake baby” and a “character main” are both grammatically incorrect.
Recognizing Word FunctionsSome adjectives have the same adverbial counterparts. Check the antecedents in sentences to ensure that you’ve identified the modifiers properly.

If the word is describing a noun or a pronoun, then the modifier is an adjective. If the word being modified is a verb, adjective, or adverb, the modifier is an adverb. For example, in the sentence “He sent the email late.” the word “late” is an adverb because it’s modifying the verb “sent.” In the clause “a late email,” the word “late” is an adjective because it’s describing the noun “email.”
Linking VerbsDescriptive adjectives (NOT adverbs) go after verbs such as be, appear, become, get, and seem.

– She gets prettier by the day.

The adjective prettier directly follows the verb “gets.”

Descriptive adjectives (again, NOT adverbs) also go after verbs that describe senses like ‘feel, look, sound, smell, and taste:

– His song sounds amazing!
– He felt ignored at the conference.
– Something smells great in the kitchen.”
Attributive Adjectives Common Errors Table

Learning Strategies and Best Practices with Attributive Adjectives

The best learning strategies that can help master adjectives are as follows:

  • Studying the different types of adjectives.
  • Familiarizing oneself with the right placement of attributive and predicative adjectives.
  • Learning the functions of antecedents and their modifiers.
Learning StrategiesExplanation
Language ListsLists, tables, and charts are very useful self-study resources for English Language Learners. They can describe any grammatical concept in a comprehensive and concise manner. The tables and lists in this article, for example, contain useful sentence examples and error recognition, making attributive and predicative adjectives easy to compare, remember, and apply to your own language usage.
Language ExposureRegular exposure to learning materials that include podcasts, movies, social media videos, and interactive learning software builds strong familiarity with how native speakers use the English language in various situations. This method increases your overall knowledge by way of osmosis or mimicry, which sometimes works subconsciously. Furthermore, since it’s almost impossible to learn adjectives without covering their synonyms, doing so will develop your vocabulary and boost your fluency in a linguistically relevant capacity.
Language ExchangeFrequent English usage in conversation is invaluable to reaching advanced proficiency. You can be a grammar expert but unable to communicate effectively in English if you don’t make an effort to talk. Use what you’ve learned in regular interactions with friends who study and speak English, both native and non-native alike. Soon you’ll realize that you’re able to communicate well and with ease.
Learning Strategies for Attribute Adjectives Table
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Attributive Adjectives Frequently Asked Questions

With the exception of the ones already mentioned in the articles, here are the other types of adjectives:

1. articles – a, an, the
2. possessive adjectives – my, your, his, her, its, our, their
3. demonstrative adjectives – these, those, this, that
4. distributive adjectives – any, both, each, every, either, neither
5. interrogative adjectives – which, what, whose (used in questions)
6. number adjectives – anything that answers the question “how many”?
7. indefinite adjectives – no, many, any, few, several
8. appositive adjectives – adjective or adjectives that function like appositive nouns
9. absolute adjectives – dead, finished, impossible, minor, infinite
10. proper adjectives – Belgian, Hindu, Indonesian, Caucasian, French
11. cumulative adjectives – a series of adjectives from different categories describing the same noun
12. coordinate adjectives – a series of adjectives from the same categories describing the same noun
13. compound adjectives – auto-immune, read-only, high-level,  built-in, well-educated
14. participial adjectives – excited, pumped, interesting, fallen, broken
15. denominal adjectives – hopeful, Plutonian, useless, environmental, Rubenesque
16. nominal or substantive adjectives – the poor, the weakest, the French, the rich, the homeless

You can only identify if an adjective is predicative by using it in a sentence. They are separated from their antecedent by linking verbs, after which they are placed. Here are 5 examples:

1. The van that drove past us is blue.
2. It feels colder in the woods.
3. Her choice of wallpaper is disastrous.
4. Doesn’t anyone else think I’m too old for this job?
5. Rita’s house in the old quarter is spacious.

It’s normal to get confused when identifying modifiers. The best practice is to first look at the words that are being modified and identify which part of speech they belong to. An adjective would modify a noun or pronoun, while an adverb would modify an adjective, a verb, or another adverb. 

The term attributive is used to distinguish adjectives that go before verbs, while the term predicative is used to signify those that appear after linking verbs.

Depending on which reference or textbook, attributive and predicative adjectives may be classified beneath the heading of descriptive adjectives, while other sources may consider them as separate types. On the whole, there is no difference between the two, and it’s logical to assume that attributives are a sub-category of descriptive adjectives.

Below are 10 categories of adjectives in order:

1. quantity 
2. opinion 
3. size 
4. physical quality 
5. shape 
6. age/condition 
7. color
8. origin/ethnicity/subject 
9. material
10. purpose

Note that to avoid longwinded, awkward, and confusing sentences, don’t use more than three adjectives to describe one noun. Four is possible but requires appropriate context and some level of proficiency. Practice and language exposure will eventually teach you to follow the sequence naturally.

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