Adjectives: Before and after Nouns

When an adjective is used with a noun, the usual order in English is adjective + noun:

Eg: A blue book.

Adjectives can go before the noun (attributive) or after linking verbs such as be, become, seem (predicative):

Eg: She has beautiful hair.

He looks dangerous.


Some adjectives can only be used in one position or the other.

With numbers and with words like first, last, next, the usual order is first/next + number + adjective + noun:

There are two cars at home.

When we use words like absolute, complete, perfect to talk about degree, they can only be used before nouns. This group of adjectives includes proper, pure, real, sheer, true, utter:

That’s a real horse.

Some time and order adjectives, such as former, present, future, are used before the noun only. Other examples are latter, old (an old friend = ‘a friend for many years’), early(early French literature = ‘of the initial period in the history of something’), and late (the late Mr Richards = ‘died recently’):

This house is from the early Victorian era.

When we use early after a verb (predicatively) it means something different. The train was early means that it came before we expected it.

Adjectives like certainmainmajoronlyparticular limit the noun that they go before (the only people who know, the particular road that we travelled on). Other examples are principalsole (meaning ‘only’), verychief:

That’s the exact dress I was looking for.

We use some –ed forms after a noun:

The issues mentioned in the essay were very important.

We can’t use adjectives with the prefix a– before a noun. We use them after linking verbs such as be, seem, become, feel, smell, taste. Common examples of adjectives with the prefix a- include awake, alive, asleep, aboard (on a plane, boat, bus or train), afloat, ablaze (on fire):

Natasha was asleep in the bedroom.

If we want to express a similar meaning with an adjective in front of the noun, we can use a related adjective.

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