A Guide To Parts Of Speech

Adjectives and Determiners

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Adjectives are categorized as one of the eight main parts of speech.

They are words, phrases, or clauses that modify nouns or words and

phrases behaving like nouns, such as Gerunds.  By adding pieces of

description, they are an important tool to completing a picture for

readers and listeners.  The job can be done with different adjectives,

some as basic as a cursor and some as complex as a clause, itself.

One broader category of adjectives is called "Determiners" and

includes a host of practical adjectives that help us "determine" other

moods, senses, and attitudes about nouns.



Articles are little words that pose as cursors, pointing us to nouns. The articles are blessedly few in

number, and the easiest category of grammar to memorize in the English language:

Indefinite Article:  a (an)

Definite:  the


The source of the Indefinite Pronoun is an adjective that quantifies--or, counts--an indefinite number

of things or persons:

some, all, any, several, many, fewer, etc.


Demonstrative adjectives are like Definite Articles.  In fact, some grammarians identify them as such.

They, too, point to nouns, but in a more demonstrative way.  To be "demonstrative" means to have a

penchant for demonstrating or showing.  So, not only do demonstrative adjectives point to something or

someone, they do so with the intent to show something.  They are

that, this, these, those.

The corresponding question words that ask for someone or something to be pointed out are

which, what; whose.

The word "whose" is also a possessive adjective.  (See below.)  The interrogative and demonstrative

adjectives, when they drop the nouns they modify, become Interrogative Pronouns and

Demonstrative Pronouns, respectively.


These are words that look like Personal Possessive Pronouns but are actually modifiers, not

pronouns (e.g., "my prerogative" or "whose idea?"):



his / her / its








The word "ordinal" simply means "in order."  Cardinal numbers--one, two, three, twenty-one, one million,

etc.--become ordinal adjectives when they are used to describe an order or a succession:

first, second, third, twenty-first, one-millionth, etc.

Calendar dates are an example of ordinal adjectives becoming a kind of pronoun because they drop the

the word "day" and stand on their own:

"the fifth day of November"

becomes, for example,

"the Fifth of November"; "November, the Fifth"; or, "November 5th."


Words that express the positive, the comparative (-er, more), and the superlative (-est, most) are



Placing the positive form of an adjective (see Degrees, above) after the noun it modifies is rarely done

in English except when you want to achieve an elevated style.  In many instances, this technique

creates a compound word, sometimes hyphenated (as with the word "a" in front of it):  "We've got beer

a-plenty at this party"; "He's just the next johnny-come-lately."

Most of the time, though, it's a simple matter of putting the separate descriptor right after the noun it

modifies.  The following list is far from comprehensive, but it contains some common examples of

post-positive adjectives found in English.  The post-positive adjective in each phrase has been


agent provocateur ("provocateur" is a French participle form)

arms [or legs] akimbo

arms [or legs] wide open

Attorney General

battle royal

blood royal

body electric

body politic

consulate general


eyes shut

eyes wide open

fee simple

forest primeval

girl interrupted ("interrupted" is a past participle)

God Almighty, God Omnipotent

heaven-sent ("sent" is a past participle)

heir apparent

heir presumptive

hell bent ("bent" is a past participle)


king consort

knight errant

Knight Templar

land pristine

light fantastic

a love supreme

man alive

mother-to-be (this is also a compound noun; "tone be" is an infinitive)

notary public

Paradise Lost (Found, Regained)

parts unknown ("unknown" is a past participle form, even though the verb "unknow" is not an

acceptable variation of the verb "know; consider how "kempt" is not not used as the opposite of


Pax Romana

Poet Laureate

Postmaster General

Pound Sterling

president-elect (this is also a compound noun)

professor emeritus

proof positive

queen consort

Surgeon General

mission accomplished ("accomplished" is a past participle)

mission impossible

time immemorial

times past

town proper

wizard deluxe

woman scorned ("scorned" is a past participle)

Some noun forms are more prone to post-positive adjectives than others, because they express an

added element of power, dominance, or supremacy.  Probably the most common occurrence of this is

in the phrase "best [noun] possible)," though, in advertising you quite often hear "best [noun] available"

just as frequently.  This is basically a literal translation of the French adjective "deluxe," and quite often

you'll see product names that have the word "deluxe" in them to create this elite effect. Advertisers are

prone hyperbole, but you can substitute "best" and the post-positive adjective with superlatives and

adjectives ("the lowest prices imaginable," for instance.)  The same elite attitude advertisers try to

encourage is expressed in traditional arenas of power and class, especially if it involves lineage or

political and military positions.

in heraldic attitudes (the position of the creature or animal on the crest):

a serpent rampant

a lion dormant

a pelican, her wings displayed (the modifier here is a past participle)

in titles of leadership and honorary titles

[position] apparent

[position] elect

[position] emeritus (largely an academic position)

[position] General

[position] presumptive

in last names (surnames)

Family names are, on rare occasions, presented as post-positive adjectives after common nouns.

What makes these different from any titles of respect ("Professor Sherlock," for example) is that the

definite article "the" comes before them:

The Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Gibb

The Emperor Jones

The Sisters Sledge

Sly and the Family Stone

Restaurant menus are a good place to find post-positive adjectives, because they give food dishes an

air of lux cuisine:

beef Wellington

beef Carpaccio

cherries jubilee

chicken Tetrazzini

eggs Benedict

oysters Rockefeller

pears flambé


Placing a Post-Positive Adjective on a sentence diagram really depends on whether the adjective is

part of a compound word, or whether it's just another modifier used with inverted word order.  Consider

the following two sentences:

Our current Poet Laureate is Natasha Tretheway.

Some Poets Laureate in times past have been Philip Levine and Rita Dove.

"Poet Laureate" is not only a compound word, its one of those irregularly pluralized compound nouns in

which the "-s" stays with "Poets."  Because it's treated as a single concept, the modifier "Laureate"

remains with it as part of the noun.  In the prepositional phrase, "in times past," however, "past" pretty

much retains its character as a modifier.

This sort of distinction, though, splits hairs, and few would quibble with you if you decided to put "times

past" on the horizontal line as one concept.


If an adjective clause is stripped of its subject and verb, the resulting modifier becomes an Adjective


He is the man keeping my family in the poorhouse.

Note how the entire phrase, "keeping my family in the poorhouse," works as an adjective, in this case a

Participial Phrase.  A Participle is a kind of Verbal that modifies nouns and noun-like words.

If a group of words containing a subject and verb acts as an adjective, it is called an Adjective Clause:

My sister, who is much older than I am, is an engineer.  Note how the entire clause works as an

adjective but begins with a relative pronoun.  Relative pronouns begin adjective clauses called, rather

unimaginatively, Relative Clauses.