When I began to read articles related to English adjectives, I often encountered these two names: "predicative adjectives" and "attributive adjectives". It seems that the author thought that all the readers can understand the terminology and they didn't provide any explanations. So, I'm wondering what is the definition of "predicative adjective" and "attributive adjective". Can anyone provide me with some examples?

  • 2
    Some English adjectives can be used only as a part of the predicate, but never as attributes, e.g. away or asleep — you can say “The manager is away” or “The boy is asleep”, but you cannot say “*an away manager” or “*an asleep boy”. Such adjectives that are always and only predicative are called statives or predicative adjectives. Is your question about this?
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 18:10
  • Yes, that's my question. Thanks a lot! I now understand it. Your answer is really helpful!
    – Rongrong
    Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 5:00
  • @YellowSky Hmmm. Isn't away an intransitive preposition and not an adjective? Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 18:52
  • @Araucaria-him — Why should it be a preposition if it doesn't normally stand before a noun? What on Earth is “intransitive preposition”? If it's what most people call “adverb”, I should tell you that “away” has different meanings, in one meaning it is an adverb, like in “He threw the rubbish away” or “When she wanted to kiss him he turned away”. But when it's predicative, when it's preceded with the copular “to be”, then it's a predicative adjective, or call it a stative. Have a look: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/away#Adjective
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 19:43
  • @YellowSky Linguists tend to Simple English Wiktionary, away, where you can find a 21st/20th C analysis as opposed to the 19th century one found on Wiktionary. Anyhow, in the 1920's Otto Jespersen stuck several knives into the "comes before a noun" idea (never true for traditional analyses of prepositions anyway; they counted as preps before all kinds of different constituents). and so did loads of other linguists. It's a prep because it behaves like a prep. It never behaves like an adverb. Note you needed to change the PoS to let it be a PC! Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 21:26

2 Answers 2


"Predicative adjective" and "attributive adjective" are essentially syntactic terms, not semantic ones.

Attributive adjectives are ones that appear inside a noun phrase, modifying a head noun. Adjectives which appear as the complements of verbs are termed predicative adjectives.

There are other syntactic functions that adjectives can have. For example, they can post-modify nouns: the presidents elect, in which case they are postpositive adjectives. They can be predicative adjuncts: I ate the pizza naked, for example.

Some adjectives only occur in a subset of these functions. The adjective alive, for example, is never used attributively:

  • *an alive elephant

And elect cannot be attributive or predicative:

  • *the president was elect
  • *the elect president

The adjective sole can only be used attributively:

  • the sole reason
  • *the reason sole
  • *the reason was sole

Usually when people write of predicative or attributive adjectives they are referring to a particular use of an adjective in a given example. Sometimes they'll be referring to adjectives which only occur in one of these syntactic positions (or a subset of them).


Semantics makes a fundamental distinction between subjects and predicates: some thing (the subject, like "Tom" or "cows") 'does' something though it can be a state or an action – that is the predicate. Example: the sentence "Tom saw a cat" has the predicate "saw a cat" and says that Tom did that thing, or, it asserts that it is true that Tom does that thing (having a cat). An example of a predicative adjective is "Tom is tall". There is also "predicate nominative" where Tom "is" some noun, like "Tom is a teacher".

An attributive adjective is an adjective that is within an NP and modifies the head noun, for example "the tall man", "an old goat". It usually serves to narrow the scope of the head noun, thus not all men or goats, just the tall or old ones.

  • I got it! Thank you for your response! That's really helpful.
    – Rongrong
    Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 5:01
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    The appropriate use of italics would make these answers more readable. Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 14:18

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