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Postpositive adjective

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Title: Postpositive adjective  
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Subject: Adjective
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Postpositive adjective

A postpositive adjective is an adjective that appears after the noun that it modifies. In some languages (such as French, Spanish, and Italian) this is the normal syntax, but in English it is rare, largely confined to archaic or institutional expressions. Aplenty, galore, and the informal extraordinaire are examples of adjectives that are primarily used postpositively in modern English. Name suffixes, such as Junior and Senior, also function as postpositive adjectives modifying proper names.

Sentences such as "They need a house big enough for their family" are not, strictly speaking, examples of postpositive adjective usage, as the noun and the adjective are in separate clauses (the example sentence means "They need a house [that is] big enough for their family"; hence the incorrectness of saying just "a house big").

Recognizing postpositive adjectives in English is important for determining the correct plural for a compound expression.

Stage- and individual-level adjectives

Some adjectives in English exhibit a slight change in meaning when used postpositively. Consider the following example.

  1. "Every visible star is named after a famous astronomer."
  2. "Every star visible is named after a famous astronomer."

The postpositive in (2) can only have a stage-level reading, whereas the adjective in (1) can have either reading. The stage-level reading is one which talks about stars which are visible at the moment (given cloud-cover, etc.); a more explicit phrasing would be "Every star visible (right) here/now is named after a famous astronomer". The individual-level reading refers to the inherent property of the star, regardless of current conditions. ("Sirius is visible to the naked eye; however, you can't see it at the moment because it's cloudy.") An explicit phrasing would be "Every star visible in general is named after a famous astronomer".

Here is another example.

  1. "I'm here to find the responsible people."
  2. "I'm here to find the people responsible."

The first sentence implies that the subject is searching for a "trustworthy" group and that he or she has yet to meet them. The second sentence implies that they have met and that things haven't gone well. The subject finds "the people" not trustworthy but rather liable.

Examples in English

Many set phrases, such as "best room available," "best choice possible," "worst choice imaginable," "food aplenty," "things possible and impossible," "things forgotten," "words unspoken," "dreams undreamt," "the light fantastic," "fiddlers three," "forest primeval," etc. Other examples include:

Other examples

Non-adjectival examples

Although the following examples do not contain adjectives, they follow the pattern when forming plurals:

  • passer-by ("by" is a preposition)
  • mother-in-law
  • coup d'état
  • cul-de-sac
  • aide-de-camp
  • mother-to-be
  • president pro tempore ("pro tempore" is an adverbial phrase meaning "for the time")

See also

  • Plurals of compound nouns


External links

  • University College London
  • Heading East
  • The Onion (satire): "William Safire Orders Two Whoppers Junior"
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