I have long wondered if there is a term for adjectives like "bovine", "ursine", "simian": words which might be used to qualify characteristics of a class of objects, for example:

... with a focus on the role it plays in bovine physiology and health. (Context)


The behaviour change suggests that global warming is responsible for this revolution in ursine behaviour. (Context)

Most of the examples I can think of for this are animal-related; as I don't know the term for this, I don't know if there are different animal-specific and non-animal-specific terms for such a word.

I have seen this described as a Collateral Adjective, for instance in Wikipedia's List of Animal Names. However, I think the definition of this doesn't quite fit in all cases:

A collateral adjective is an adjective that is identified with a particular noun in meaning, but that is not derived from that noun.

An example of where this does not fit is "human": "human physiology", "human behaviour" would be equally correct in the quotes above. This is clearly derived from the noun (if you count being the same as derivation, of course).

An example of which does not relate to animals (and also where the adjective derives from the noun) would be:

Rock 'n' roll music further encouraged unrestrained behavior that was so different from British sensibilities of self-control (Context)

Can anybody suggest an the correct term for such adjectives?

  • So mean like how if you want to get rid of a cough, you decant some anti-tussive concoction? That's simply using Latin-derived terms for technical stuff.
    – tchrist
    Jun 12, 2016 at 21:49
  • @tchrist "British" and "human" aren't really technical terms. Jun 12, 2016 at 21:54
  • British derives from Britain- I don't see how that's an example.
    – Jim
    Jun 12, 2016 at 22:00
  • @Jim I struggled to think of a non-animal example; I used "British sensibilities" because I was thinking of some attribute which is claimed to apply to the category of "all something"; in this case, it was meant to be "all British people". The naval example is just one I pulled off Google; it is perhaps not the best because this is really referring to a specific thing (the British Admiralty, or perhaps the British Government). Jun 12, 2016 at 22:05
  • @tchrist also, "simian" is Greek-derived. Jun 12, 2016 at 22:13

1 Answer 1


Your examples are "derived adjectives"; that is, they are derived ("drawn", "taken") from nouns (or verbs).

They look "technical" because they go back to Greek and Latin terms for the animals, often transmitted to English via French - for example "bovine": 1817, from French bovin (14c.), from Late Latin bovinus, from Latin bos (genitive bovis) "ox, cow," from PIE *gwous- (see cow (n.)). Figurative sense of "inert and stupid" is from 1855. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=bovine

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