Unit 31 Position of adjectives

Main points

* There are two main positions for adjectives: in front of a noun, or as the complement of a link verb.

* Most adjectives can be used in either of these positions, but some adjectives can only be used in one.

1 Most adjectives can be used in a noun group, after determiners and numbers if there are any, in front of the noun.
He had a beautiful smile.
She bought a loaf of white bread.
There was no clear evidence.

2 Most adjectives can also be used after a link verb such as `be’, `become’, or `feel’.
I’m cold.
I felt angry.
Nobody seemed amused.

3 Some adjectives are normally used only after a link verb.

afraid, alive, alone, asleep, aware, content, due, glad, ill, ready, sorry, sure, unable, well

For example, you can say `She was glad’, but you do not talk about `a glad woman’.
I wanted to be alone.
We were getting ready for bed.
I’m not quite sure.
He didn’t know whether to feel glad or sorry.

4 Some adjectives are normally used only in front of a noun.


For example, you talk about `an atomic bomb’, but you do not say `The bomb was atomic’.
He sent countless letters to the newspapers.
This book includes a good introductory chapter on forests.

5 When you use an adjective to emphasize a strong feeling or opinion, it always comes in front of a noun.

absolute, complete, entire, outright, perfect, positive, pure, real, total, true, utter

Some of it was absolute rubbish.
He made me feel like a complete idiot.

6 Some adjectives that describe size or age can come after a noun group consisting of a number or determiner and a noun that indicates the unit of measurement.


He was about six feet tall.
The water was several metres deep.
The baby is nine months old.

Note that you do not say `two pounds heavy’, you say `two pounds in weight’.

7 A few adjectives are used alone after a noun.

designate, elect, galore, incarnate

She was now the president elect.
There are empty houses galore.

8 A few adjectives have a different meaning depending on whether they come in front of or after a noun.

concerned, involved, present, proper, responsible

For example, `the concerned mother’ means a mother who is worried, but `the mother concerned’ means the mother who has been mentioned.
It’s one of those incredibly involved stories.
The people involved are all doctors.
I’m worried about the present situation.
Of the 18 people present, I knew only one.
Her parents were trying to act in a responsible manner.
We do not know the person responsible for his death.