Monday, September 30, 2013

Predicative adjectives

Most adjectives can have two positions in the sentence:
  • Before the noun they qualify: a pretty woman. In this case the adjective is in attributive position.
  • After a few verbs called linking verbs (be, seem, look, become...): Julia is pretty. In this case, the adjective is in predicative position.
Pretty Woman
However, there are a few adjectives that can only happen in one of these positions. Today, we are going to see those adjectives that can only be predicative.

Predicative adjectives
Most of the adjectives only used in predicative position begin with the prefix a-.
(This prefix comes from the Old English "an", meaning on, which helped form adjectives and adverbs from nouns, or the prefix ge- that used to go before participles. It doesn't have anything to do with the negative prefix a-, which comes from Latin and Greek, and is thus used in words coming from these languages).
Some examples are: ablaze, afraid, aghast, ajar, alive, alike, alone, ashamed, asleep, awake, aware...
You can say He is alive, but *An alive man is not possible. However, most of these adjectives have an equivalent attributive adjective. Let's see a few:
Predicative Attributive
afraid frightened
aghast terrified
ajar slightly open / half-open
agog eager
alight lighted
alike similar
alive live / living
alone lone /lonely /solitary
ashamed embarrassed
asleep sleeping
awake waking

So, you can say: The boy is afraid,  or a frightened boy. But *An afraid boy, is not possible.

Apart from these adjectives beginning with a-, there are other predicative adjectives:
  • Poorly (attributive: ailing) Mary is very poorly today.
  • Well (attributive: healthy) She was well yesterday. 
  • Ill (attributive: sick) when it means "unhealthy": He is ill, he is a sick man. However, ill can also be attributive when it means "bad", instead of "unhealthy": Ill fame, ill luck, or in the expression It's an ill wind that blows nobody good.
  • Sorry is predicative when used for apologies: I am sorry, but when used attributively, it means "sad" or "unhappy": a sorry sight.
I'm sorry!

Very is not used with some predicative adjectives. So, we say wide awake, fast asleep...

In the following exercise we can practise the use of predicative adjectives.


  1. Thank you, so much!
    I am agog to learn more grammar!


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