In the examples below, "big" and "better" are adjectives following a noun and a pronoun (respectively) that they qualify:

  1. The couple were shopping for a house big enough for their 42 children.

  2. I don't like Clinton and Trump; I want someone better than those two.

Can someone state a general rule saying when this is done?

  • 3
    Don't think about it as an adjective following a noun; both are reduced relative clauses. Whiz-Deletion has applied to both a house (that is) big enough... and someone (that is) better than... The normal rule says that if a modifier consists of more than one word, it goes after the noun; only if it is just one word may it precede the noun. Thus a boy eleven years old vs an eleven-year-old boy; hyphenation is one way of indicating single-word status. – John Lawler Sep 4 '16 at 19:26

I'd say it generally happens when we are facing an ellipsis. We can rewrite your first sentence into:

  • The couple were shopping for a house that were big enough for their 42 children.

As we can see, that were is ellipsed in this sentence and big is qualifying enough instead house.

In your second example, we have a comparative clause (in which ellipses are almost always implicit), but better is an adverb.

  • I'd say "was" rather than "were". – Michael Hardy Sep 4 '16 at 19:12
  • But "enough" is qualifying "big" and "big" is qualifying "house". – Michael Hardy Sep 4 '16 at 19:12
  • Not at all. that were (was) big enough acts as an adjective phrase to qualify house. – Luke Sep 4 '16 at 19:24
  • Indeed: "big enough" is an adjective phrase qualifying "house", and "enough" is an adverb qualifying "big". It's big enough, as opposed to (for example) too big, or inadequately big, or unimaginably big, etc. – Michael Hardy Sep 5 '16 at 1:07

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