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Predicative-Only Adjectives

Traditional grammars define adjectives as “words that describe nouns.” Prototypical adjectives perform five grammatical functions in English grammar:

  1. Adjective phrase head
  2. Noun phrase modifier
  3. Subject complement
  4. Object complement
  5. Appositive

The internal structure, or grammatical form, that distinguish adjectives from other grammatical forms includes three degrees of modification: positive, comparative, and superlative.

Prototypical adjectives can also appear attributively, postpositively, and predicatively. Attribute adjectives function as noun phrase modifiers and immediately precede the modified noun as in green in green pajamas. Postpositive adjectives also function as noun phrase modifiers but directly follow the modified noun as in stinky in something stinky. Predicative adjectives function as subject complements and object complements in the predicate of a clause as in sleepy in The baby appeared sleepy and red in He painted the roses red.

Predicative-Only Adjectives

Some English adjectives differ from prototypical adjectives, being limited in both grammatical form and grammatical function. Predicative-only, or predicate-only adjectives, function only in the predicates of clauses as subject complements and object complements. The most common predicative-only adjectives include:

  • ablaze
  • abreast
  • afire
  • afloat
  • afraid
  • aghast
  • aglow
  • alert
  • alike
  • alive
  • alone
  • aloof
  • ashamed
  • asleep
  • awake
  • aware
  • fond
  • unaware

The majority of predicative-only adjectives in English begin with the letter a, which resembles other adjectival prefixes. Unlike other adjectives, however, predicative-only adjectives function only as subject complements and object complements in the predicates of clauses. For example:

  • The baby is awake. (subject complement)
  • The dog is keeping the baby awake. (object complement)
  • *The awake baby is crying. (incorrect)
  • *The baby awake is crying. (incorrect)

Predicative-only adjectives still function as the heads of adjective phrases and sometimes take adjective phrase complements. For example:

  • The girl is fond of frozen yogurt. (subject complement)
  • Trying new foods made the girl fond of frozen yogurt. (object complement)
  • The mayor is aware of the situation. (subject complement)
  • The sheriff made the mayor aware of the situation. (object complement)

Predicative-only adjectives with adjective phrase complements still cannot function attributively as noun phrase modifiers. For example:

  • *The fond of frozen yogurt girl (incorrect)
  • *The aware of the situation mayor (incorrect)

However, some predicative-only adjectives can function postpositively as noun phrase modifiers as well as appositives. For example

  • The girl fond of frozen yogurt stopped by the dessert shop today. (noun phrase modifier)
  • Fond of frozen yogurt, the girl stopped by the dessert shop today. (appositive)
  • The girl, fond of frozen yogurt, stopped by the dessert shop today. (appositive)
  • The mayor aware of the situation called for emergency help. (noun phrase modifier)
  • Aware of the situation, the mayor called for emergency help. (appositive)
  • The mayor, aware of the situation, called for emergency help. (appositive)

Additionally, some predicative-only adjectives can function as noun phrase modifiers when the adjective is modified by an adverb or another adjective. For example:

  • The half-asleep dog barked when the doorbell rang.
  • The wide-awake baby refuses to take a nap.
  • The immensely ashamed politician admitted to the scandal.
  • I found a very alive spider in my box of cereal.

Thus, some predicative-only adjectives can function attributively or postpositively as noun phrase modifiers when such adjectives are modified by another adjective or an adverb. Some predicative-only adjectives can also function as appositives. In general, however, predicative-only adjectives function primarily as subject complements and object complements in the predicates of clauses.

References

DeCarrico, Jeanette S. 2000. The structure of English: Studies in form and function for language teaching. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jacobs, Roderick A. 1995. English syntax: A grammar for English language professionals. New York: Oxford University Press.
Justice, Laura M. & Helen K.Ezell. 2002. The syntax handbook: Everything you learned about syntax…but forgot. Eau Claire, WI: Thinking Publications.
O’Dwyer, Bernard T. 2000. Modern English structures: Form, function, and position. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.

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