I'd like to ask if we can use the word initiative as an adjective. I have found it used that way, but there is no entry for initiative as an adjective in the Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary.

  • 2
    Where have you found it, then, if it's not in the dictionary? You can use more or less any noun as a noun adjunct, which functions much the same as an adjective in certain ways. You cannot use initiative as an actual adjective, though: *“It is very initiative” and *“It seems initiative” are both ungrammatical. Jul 7, 2014 at 8:24
  • Thank you very much. I found the adjective form of that word on some online dictionary. Jul 7, 2014 at 8:28
  • You should include that as part of the question, then. Different dictionaries include different words, and refer to them in different ways. Noun adjuncts, for example, are often labelled as adjectives in dictionaries, even though they are different in many ways. Jul 7, 2014 at 9:08
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    Related :english.stackexchange.com/questions/71877/…
    – user66974
    Jul 7, 2014 at 9:23
  • 3
    What kind of initiative do you mean to use? There is more than one meaning to the word. Its adjective form may or may not relate to your context. Please provide the actual sentence with context.
    – Kris
    Jul 7, 2014 at 10:02

2 Answers 2


Actually initiative as an adjective can be found in dictionaries as shown below. I'd say that is not a common adjective and initiatory, introductory or initial are valid alternatives.

  1. Of or relating to initiation.
  2. Used to initiate; initiatory.

  3. of or concerning initiation or serving to initiate; initiatory.


initiative - serving to set in motion;

  • "the initiative phase in the negotiations"; "an initiatory step toward a treaty";

  • Compressed dry guncotton is easily detonated by an initiative detonator such as mercuric fulminate.

  • In 1908 an act was passed providing for local option in regard to the sale of intoxicating liquors, by an election to be called an initiative petition, signed by at least 35% of the electors of a county.

  • The first attempts to utilize the explosive power of nitroglycerin were made by Nobel in 1863; they were only partially successful until the plan, first applied by General Pictot in 1854, of developing the force of gunpowder in the most rapid manner and to the maximum extent, through initiative detonation, was applied by Nobel to nitroglycerin.

  • How confident are you that these dictionaries are not conflating attributive nouns/noun adjuncts, and true adjectives? Janus points out (above) the counter-arguments to their claims. Jul 7, 2014 at 23:52

Is "turkey" an adjective? I found it used that way. As in "turkey dinner". No, it's a noun adjunct, in the same way as Janus said in one of the comments.

A noun adjunct is (wikipedia)

an optional noun that modifies another noun; a noun functioning as an adjective

Is "chicken" and adjective? That's a bit more complicated. There's "chicken dinner" and "chicken soup". In these cases, it's a noun adjunct.

"Chicken" is complicated by being identified with "cowardly" (an adjective), as in "The man is chicken". "Chicken" is accepted as an adjective here. What about "Jack is the chicken man"? I would stick with noun adjunct, even if the meaning can only be determined by context. (Is Jack cowardly or is Jack the man that sells chickens, or is he something else?)

This brings us to your specific question about "initiative". This is commonly identified as a noun and not as an adjective.

Using some examples provided from another answer (there was no context to refer to in the original question), I'll provide some thoughts and then make my point.

"the initiative phase in in the negotiations"; "an initiatory step toward a treaty";

Both cases look like clumsy efforts to say initial (in the first cue) and initiating or initial in the second case.

...detonated by an initiative detonator ...

A better word choice would be initiating

...by an election to be called an initiative petition...

This is literally referring the the procedure (noun) that enables a number of voters to propose a law by petition, which is called an initiative, which is a noun. This is a case of being a noun adjunct.

...developing the force of gunpowder in the most rapid manner and to the maximum extent, through initiative detonation, was applied by Nobel to nitroglycerin.

A better choice might be an initiating

As these examples show, It's easy to mentally identify a noun that has been used as a noun adjunct as an adjective. But when you to this, you may begin put the word into tortured positions (as adjectives) that make you stare and wonder if they are really right. You'll check a dictionary and ask some experts. You'll get advice that contradicts your common sense. It might be easier, now that you are aware of the existence of noun adjuncts, to say to yourself "there is probably a better way to say this".

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