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)
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 and INTERROGATIVE ADJECTIVES
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
eyes wide open
girl interrupted ("interrupted" is a past participle)
God Almighty, God Omnipotent
heaven-sent ("sent" is a past participle)
hell bent ("bent" is a past participle)
a love supreme
mother-to-be (this is also a compound noun; "tone be" is an infinitive)
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
president-elect (this is also a compound noun)
mission accomplished ("accomplished" is a past participle)
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] emeritus (largely an academic position)
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:
DIAGRAMMING POST-POSITIVE ADJECTIVES
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.
ADJECTIVE PHRASES AND CLAUSES
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
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.