For example:

distal dog ugly-ADJ.PRED 'yon dog is ugly'

would be distinct from:

distal dog ugly-ADJ.ATTR 'yon ugly dog'

I wonder if this is attested in the world's languages, and if not, if it could be part of a possible human language.

  • What do you mean by "mark"? Does it have to be through morphology, or does syntax count?
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 8, 2015 at 13:39

5 Answers 5


In German, attributive adjectives agree in number and gender, while predicative adjectives (which are used with a copulative verb) do not, and are invariable. In fact, some analyses of German consider the predicative adjectives and deadjectival adverbs to in fact belong to the same category of speech, since an adjective used as an adverb also does not agree and takes the same "default" form.

In Arabic, adjectives agree in number, gender, and case with their referents, but attributive adjectives are distinguished from predicative adjectives by also needing to agree in definiteness. In predicative sentences with adjectives, there is no overt copula for the present tense, so a sequence of definite noun + attributive adjective is distinguishable from an equational sentence consisting of a definite noun + indefinite predicative adjective. (Predicative adjectives can also be marked for definiteness when the semantics of the sentence calls for it.)

  • What you say about Arabic is not actually correct. Predicate adjectives are usually in the undetermined form, e.g. al-madīnatu kabīratun “the town is big”, literally “the town a big one”. but they can also be determined, as in: ʼanta l-ʻalīmu l-ḥakīmu “thou art the knowing one, the wise one” (Qur’an 2:32). In other words: there is no morphological distinction between attributive adjectives and predicative adjectives; there is a distinction between determined and undetermined adjectives.
    – fdb
    Apr 8, 2015 at 14:16
  • @fdb: but agreement in definiteness in only mandatory for attributive adjectives, right? I would say that is a distinction in marking between predicate and attributive. The use of definite forms for the predicate in cases like this doesn't seem to be due to agreement, but due the the adjective being semantically definite. However, I'll edit the answer to make it clear that predicative adjectives can also appear in the definite form. Apr 8, 2015 at 15:24
  • 1
    Yes, it is better now. Concerning German, it is possible, synchronically, to analyse indeclinable predicate adjectives as de facto adverbs. From a diachronic perspective one could however object the Middle High German generally uses undeclined adjectives as predicates, but still distinguishes adjectives and de-adjectival adverbs (adj. lanc, adv. lange).
    – fdb
    Apr 8, 2015 at 15:33
  • could you refer to some literature concerning the "pred adjectives = adverbs in German" hypothesis. IMO this is quite problematic also for contemporary German. Apart from locatives no unambiguous adverbs can occur in predicative constructions in German: 1. Peter geht gern(e) joggen 2. *Peter ist gern 3. Glücklicherweise hat Peter das Rauchen aufgehört 4. *Peter ist Glücklicherweise 5. Peter geht oft ins Restaurant 6. *Der restaurantbesuch ist oft Furthermore the locatives are incompatible with "werden" while adjectives are not.
    – user3201
    Aug 12, 2020 at 15:35

In Finnish, attributive and predicative adjectives have different agreement patterns when they are modifying mass-nouns and (most) plural count-nouns.

For example,

valkoinen lumi "the white snow" (mass-noun)

pitkät ihmiset "the tall people" (plural count-noun)

Here, valkoinen "white" and pitkä "long, tall" are in the nominative, just like their head nouns. But, when these adjectives are used predicatively with the same nouns, they appear in the partitive case:

Lumi oli valkoista "The snow was white"

Ihmiset olivat pitk "The people were tall"

This pattern doesn't apply to singular count-nouns:

valkoinen lintu "white bird"

Lintu oli valkoinen "The bird was white"


Russian has this feature, too: этот больной человек 'this sick person' vs. этот человек болен 'this person is sick'.


For example German: Der hässliche Hund ~ Der Hund ist hässlich.


Also North Saami: Gákti lea čáppat "The jacket is nice" (čáppat), Dát lea čappa gákti "This is a nice jacket".

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