There are three main positions for adjectives in English:
Predicative: where they occur as the Predicative Complement of a verb, such as FEEL, LOOK, SEEM or BE:
- He felt alive.
- The elephants looked serene.
- She seemed discombobulated.
- He was irate.
Attributive: where they occur as the modifier of a noun:
- You're talking utter nonsense.
- That's a large elephant you have there.
- I can't stand the hypocritical cant of politicians
- The once ubiquitous sparrow is now an endangered species.
Postpositive: where they occur after the noun they are modifying:
- the quickest route possible
- the worst conditions imaginable
- the best deal available
- the body politic
Notice that the adjective responsible can occur in all three positions. So we can say that responsible can be a predicative, attributive and postpositive adjective. This would basically just be saying that responsible is an adjective that can undertake all the normal adjective functions that we normally expect adjectives to be able to.
However, some adjectives can only be used in some of these positions. In other words the syntactic functions that they can carry out are restricted. For example, notice that the adjective alive in group one cannot be used attributively:
- *I found an alive man. (ungrammatical)
Some people say therefore that alive is a predicative only adjective (this is not correct, as explained further below).
Conversely, the adjective utter in group two can only be used attributively:
- *Their stupidity was utter. (ungrammatical)
Utter is therefore often described as an attributive only adjective.
Most adjectives that occur postpositively in set phrases only occur postpositively, such as the word politic in group three above. We usually just say that the words are postpositive adjectives.
The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002) broadly categorize adjectives with restricted functions into two categories: attributive-only adjectives and never-attributive adjectives. Attributive-only adjectives are:
- "Adjectives that do not normally occur except as (heads of) attributive modifiers [...]".
Never-attributive adjectives are:
- "Adjectives which can occur predicatively or postpositively, but not attributively".
Note that this is a much better description of the adjective alive, for example, which can of course occur postpositively as well as predicatively:
- Anything currently alive is salvageable.
References: The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Huddleston & Pullum, 2002. pp 553-562.