Analyzing the Grammar of English

By Richard V. Teschner; Eston E. Evans | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Adjectives and Relative Clauses

Attributive and Predicate Adjectives: Identification and Syntax

There are two positions where an English adjective may appear: (1) within the same noun phrase as the noun it modifies whether coming before or after it (the attributive position), or (2) not within the noun phrase whose noun it modifies but, instead, right after the clause's verb (the predicate position). Here are some examples:

Attributive

1.1 —before the modified noun (the prenominal attributive position)

a. a big poodle

b. the old computer

c. some pretty flowers

d. a poor bedraggled sweet little old Polish lady

1.2 after the modified noun (the postnominal attributive position)

a. a poodle big with a not-yet-born litter

b. a course open to all students

c. a driver asleep at the wheel

Predicate

2. a. the poodle is big

b. some men were sick

c. the flowers look pretty

d. the feather appears ruffled

e. the computer only seems old

While one of the most typical characteristics of English attributive adjectives is that they appear in the prenominal position, many attributive adjectives can also appear postnominally (thus big in nos. 1.1.a and 1.2.a above), and a few can appear only postnominally (thus asleep in 1.2.c; cf. the ungrammatical *an asleep driver). However, the expected or unmarked position for English adjectives is the prenominal attributive position. If an adjective appears in the postnominal attributive position, then that adjective will originally have formed part (or is assumed to be able to form part) of a restrictive relative clause that has undergone a transformation deleting the relative pronoun and the verb. The deleted verb will be a copula (be) or a copula-like verb (seem, appear, look). By deleting the pronoun and the verb we produce a gap, in the process first referred

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