Attributive - predicative

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The terms attributive and predicative – both pronounced with the stress on the second syllable – are most commonly applied to adjectives, their use, or their position in the sentence.

Most adjectives in English may be used in two ways:

  • before the noun they modify and preceded, if appropriate, by the definite or indefinite article or a demonstrative or possessive adjective – for example, ‘The old regulations were too permissive’, ‘This beautiful vase must be handled with care’, ‘Our new house has a large garden’, and ‘Have you met the new teacher?’ These sentences exemplify the attributive use of the adjectives old, beautiful, new, and large, and adjectives used in this way may be said to occupy the attributive position or to be used attributively. Some adjectives may only occupy the attributive position – for example, we may say ‘This is an absolute disgrace' but not ‘This disgrace is absolute'. These adjectives are sometimes described as attributive adjectives: for more examples see Adjectives used only in the attributive position.
  • after the verbs ‘to be’, ‘to seem’, ‘to appear’, ‘to be considered’, or another linking verb, and not preceded by the definite or indefinite article or a demonstrative or possessive adjective – for example, ‘These flowers are beautiful’, ‘He seems angry’, ‘John is tall for his age’, ‘What he said has been shown to be false’. ’ These sentences exemplify the predicative use of the adjectives beautiful, angry, tall, and false, and adjectives used in this way may be said to occupy the predicative position or to be used predicatively. Some adjectives may only occupy the predicative position – for example, we may say ‘The baby is asleep’ but not ‘Be careful not to wake the asleep baby'. These adjectives are sometimes described as predicative adjectives: for more examples see Adjectives not used in the attributive position.

Attributive and predicative may also be used of nouns when they are used, like adjectives, to modify another noun – as in ‘The United Nations has approved another peace initiative in the Middle East’ or ‘She was wearing a summer dress’. Nouns used attributively in this way cannot as a rule be used predicatively: we cannot say ‘The initiative approved by the United Nations is peace' or ‘The dress she was wearing was summer'.

You may also like to look at Attribute - attribution (pronunciation), epithet, Predicate, and Predicate in grammar.