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What are Attributive and Predicate Adjectives?

You may be wondering, “What is a predicate adjective?”

Predicate and attributive adjectives are words that characterize or describe nouns and pronouns. While there are many types of adjectives, predicate and attributive adjectives fall into a category of their own.

Words that describe nouns fall into two main categories: describing adjectives and limiting adjectives. Predicate and attributive are describing adjectives. They are the only two types in that group, making “describing adjectives” part of the predicate adjective definition. In contrast, there are at least nine types of limiting adjectives. 

Some grammarians consider it difficult to define predicate adjectives, and even more tough to identify. Luckily, there are a few hints you can look for to help you identify them.

The easiest way to learn how to identify whether an adjective is a predicate adjective or an attributive adjective is to spot where the adjective is in the structure of the sentence.

Let’s quickly review the parts of a basic sentence to help you learn how to find predicate and attributive adjectives.

The Two Parts of a Sentence: Subject and Predicate

There’s no question of how important sentences are. After all, sentences make up all our conversations and communication. Learning the parts of a sentence will help you understand the predicate adjective definition. The predicate adjective examples below also help you to understand how they are used in practice. 

But did you know that sentences have two parts? You call these sections of a sentence the subject and the predicate (which is where you’ll find the predicate adjective).

Do you know which part is which? Well, the subject comes first. It’s the part of a sentence that describes the person, place, or thing that’s completing an action, or being spoken about.

The second section of a sentence contains a predicate adjective (if the speaker or author includes one) and a verb to describe what action the subject is doing.

  • Wet surfaces are slippery.

The subject is wet surfaces, while slippery is the predicate adjective.

The second part of a sentence can not only describe action, but it can also describe a state of being.

Here’s one more example:

  • The floor is shiny.

Now that you’re brushed up on the parts of a sentence, it’s time to define predicate adjective. After all, what are predicate adjectives?

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What are Predicate Adjectives?

Let’s define “predicate adjective.” The simplest predicate adjective definition is that it describes or modifies the subject of a sentence. This type of modifying word appears after the subject of the sentence, which is normally a noun or pronoun. The describing word will also connect to a sentence with a linking verb.

Using the predicate adjective examples above, you can see that wet surfaces/the floor are the subjects, and that slippery/shiny, the predicative adjectives, describe them. These two parts of the sentence are connected with the linking verb, are.

What is a predicate adjective? Well, it’s the word following the subject and the linking verb.

But What’s a Linking Verb?

A linking verb works to connect a verb with a describing word, noun, or pronoun. Examples include:

  • Any form of the verb to be
  • Sounds
  • Tastes
  • Looks
  • Feels
  • Smells
  • Seems
  • Becomes
  • Grows
  • Keeps
  • Appears

However, the verb to be and all its forms are the only “true” linking verbs, because you can use the other words on the list above as nouns. If you can replace either of the linking verbs above with a form of to be, then the verb works as a linking verb.

Let’s look at how it’s done, with the sample sentence:

  • Your shoe smells brand new.

If you replace smells with the correct form of to be, you get:

  • Your shoe is brand new.

The new sentence still makes sense, therefore smells is acting as a linking verb.

However, what happens when we do this test on a sentence that’s not using the verb to smell as a linking verb?

Well, take a sentence like:

  • He smells the fresh spring air.*

It would become:

  • He is the fresh spring air.

As the second statement isn’t true, you know that this form of to smell is acting as a transitive verb and not a linking verb. Understanding this distinction will help you tell whether a describing word is predicative or attributive.

Using Linking Verbs to Identify Predicative Adjectives

If you find any of these linking verbs before a noun describer, then you have identified a predicate adjective. In other words, a predicate adjective comes after linking verbs.

To help you understand further, here are a few predicate adjective examples:

  • Arcade games are addicting.
  • My children are sound asleep.
  • Cheryl’s singing sounds incredible!

In the above examples, the bold words are the predicate adjective.

What Is an Attributive Adjective?

In addition to using a predicate adjective, you can use attributive words to describe nouns. This type of describing word sometimes follows a noun, but most of the time it precedes it.

Attributive words also are not connected with a linking verb in a sentence. Instead, an attributive word becomes part of the noun phrase. See this helpful article to learn more about this type of word.

What is a Noun Phrase?

Also called a predicative nominative, a noun phrase is a word or group of words that act as the subject in a sentence. A noun phrase can include articles, possessive nouns, possessive pronouns, and participles. Here are a few examples of noun phrases:

  • Your friend’s puppy.
  • The large grocery store.
  • Her best friend Mike.
  • The well-behaved student.

If the describing words come before the noun, then you know the sentence is attributive. Be on the lookout for descriptive modifiers in a noun phrase, while determining whether a sentence is predicative or attributive.

Here are some examples of sentences with attributive words:

  • The tired student fell asleep.
  • brown dog hopped the fence.
  • His funny joke made me laugh.

Predicative Adjectives vs. Predicative Nominatives

Predicative nominatives, or noun phrases, can create confusion when you’re looking for predicative adjectives. After all, a sentence with a linking verb can be completed by either.

For example, which one of the following sentences contains a predicate adjective, and which has a predicative nominative?:

  • Sarah is pale.
  • Sarah is a ghost.

The first sentence is completed by a predicative adjective. The second sentence is completed by a predicative nominative. Even though the phrase “a ghost” describes Sarah, it is a noun phrase.

Predicative vs. Attributive Adjectives

So, what is a predicate adjective and how is it different from an attributive word? 

In each of the above examples, the attributive word comes before the noun. These words make up the subject of the sentence.

Predicative words on the other hand, appear after subject and connect to a sentence with a linking verb. Basically, it’s all about the placement of a describing word within a sentence.

Here are some additional predicate adjective examples:

  • Bobby becomes wiser each month on the job.
  • The children feel sick whenever they fly in a plane.
  • Your fitness instructor seems intimidating.
  • My son is afraid of that dog.
  • The beached whale looked dehydrated.
  • Tanya’s ankle became bruised after she fell.

Through the predicate adjective examples above, you probably have a good feel for how to identify these words in a sentence. However, do you know why they matter?

Why Are Predicative Adjectives Important?

Many students wonder why we need to study sentence structure. The fact is that using the right adjective in the right way will improve your writing and speaking skills. People with excellent grammar are perceived as more intelligent. By using predicate adjectives correctly, you stand a better chance of driving your point home, whatever it may be.

A common mistake you might make is using an adverb when you should be using a predicative adjective.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I feel badly”? This is an example of using an adverb when an adjective should be used. Instead, you should say, “I feel bad.”

Here are more examples. Which one of the following sentences contains a predicate adjective?:

  • Samantha smells incredibly.
  • Samantha smells incredible.

Do you see the difference? Incredibly is an adverb and should not be used in this case. It sounds a little off. Incredible is the predicative adjective.

Test Your Knowledge

Hopefully, you now know how to define predicate adjective and learned how to identify them from the predicate adjective examples above.

Let’s see more predicate adjective examples below and determine which one of the following sentences contains a predicate adjective and which ones include attributive words.

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Attributive and Predicate Adjective Examples:

Can you tell which one each sentence has?

  • The unpredictable carnival games.
  • These carnival games are unpredictable.
  • That movie was horrifying.
  • I can’t watch that horrifying movie.
  • Her costume is beautiful.
  • Her beautiful costume.
  • Their sweet-sounding words brought tears to my eyes.
  • Their words were sweet-sounding and brought tears to my eyes.
  • My homework is too easy for you.
  • My easy homework would make you fall asleep.

Were you able to tell how each describing word functions based on its location in the sentence? Double check your answer with a friend.

Now that you’ve read the guide and answered the questions, you should be able to answer the question “what are predicate adjectives.” For more info on predicative words and a short description, click to read more.

Published March 5, 2019. Updated April 23, 2020.

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