Sorry for the confusing title, but I'm not aware of any common linguistic terms for the concepts at hand, so I'm kinda making them up as I go. So I'll start by explaining the question.

There are a few different ways that languages can achieve the function of adjectives:

  • English is a handy example of a language which predominantly uses adnominal adjectives: a distinct lexical class whose primary function is to describe nouns adnominally.
  • Japanese uses two types of adjectivals commonly. First, stative verbs, which may then be used adnominally through the formation of relative clauses. E.g. "aoi [be blue] hana [flower]"
  • Japanese also commonly uses abstract genitive phrases, where abstract nouns are used in genitive phrases conveying an attributive relation with the head noun. E.g. "kirei [beauty] na [genitive marker] tori [bird]"

My question here is what are some languages (I'm not familiar with any) that predominantly use the fourth type: concrete nouns that are used adjectivally by the formation of genitive phrases where the genitive relation conveys equality with the head noun. I suppose German, Japanese, and some other agglutinative languages could be taken as examples of languages which make use of such constructions (if you count agglutination as a genitive structure), but in both cases I'm inclined to think other adjectival strategies are more common.

  • Hmm. Could you add where the information on Japanese is coming from? I don't immediately see the difference between "aoi" and "kirei", both of which can be used predicatively without a copula. I also don't think you can use "kirei" as a noun, without nominalizing it first. Finally, I wasn't aware that "na" was considered a genitive marker. The genitive marker I know is "no". Is there some sort of historical connection with "na"?
    – lapropriu
    Nov 4, 2012 at 5:35
  • Depending on the language, various structures may allow one type of adjectival to resemble another. Japanese allows zero copula, which allows nouns to be used predicatively like you say. The clearest difference is that Japanese nouns like kirei are uninflected and require nominal syntactic structures to assume different roles, while adjectives are inflected like verbs; though it's actually a bit complicated - while they are linguistically verbs, they are lexically distinct from Japanese verbs, and can only inflect in a subset of verbal inflection and with completely different forms. Nov 4, 2012 at 8:02
  • Japanese adjectives used to have three inflections: predicative (e.g. the main predicate of the sentence, such as "aoshi"), attributive (relative clause inflection, e.g. "aoki") and conjunctive (e.g. "aoku"). In modern Japanese the first two merged forms (e.g. to "aoi") in both verbs and adjectives. Second, "na" and "no" are two different genitive markers. The typical but approximate description is that "na" is used with an abstract genitive phrase while "no" is used with a concrete one. Nov 4, 2012 at 8:06
  • I agree with @lapropriu, isn't the genitive marker (possessive) の (no)? I think you may be confusing that na with the fact that 奇麗 (kirei) is a na-adjective. Is that it? I admit I'm not a total expert of Japanese but that's what I know.
    – Alenanno
    Nov 4, 2012 at 12:38
  • 2
    Alright, going by the wikipedia page for "Adjectival noun (Japanese)" and your explanations, I see why people argue for nominal versus verbal adjectives. But I'm still not sure I agree that the morpheme "na" is an allomorph of "no". This seems to be more disputed. But to go back to your actual question, how about ch.60 of WALS? wals.info/chapter/60
    – lapropriu
    Nov 4, 2012 at 14:54

2 Answers 2


If you mean what I think you mean, then Hebrew is noted for this. The same construction (with the construct form of a noun) is used for possession:

בית המלך (beyt ha-melekh) "house (of) the king"

and often for qualification:

כלי כסף (kəley kesef) "vessels (of) silver" = "silver vessels".

Many languages have constructions like this - we can say vessels of silver in English - but it is more widespread in Hebrew.

Is this what you mean?

(Examples from van der Merve, Naudé and Kroeze, A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar)


I think "na" is also a relative construction, not a genitive construction, just like the "-i" adjectives.

This page is the one your looking for: http://wals.info/chapter/60. According to this page, languages that uses relative clauses for semantic adjectives would include Tagalog, Thai and Cantonese.

Elaborating on Tagalog using your examples :

  1. blue flower > bughaw na bulaklak or bulaklak na bughaw

    [bughaw = blue; bulaklak = flower]

  2. beautiful bird > maganda na ibon or ibon na maganda

    [maganda = beautiful; ibon = bird]

This is the only adjective construction in Tagalog. Additionally, the order of the adjective and the noun is not fixed or reversible. Most Philippine languages behave in the same way.


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