There seem to be two different kinds of adjectives, those that are used as prefixes and those that are used as predicates. Is there a name or terminology for this difference?

For example,

The dogs are agressive.
Aggressive dogs bark.

This adjective can be used both ways.

The president is alone.
The alone president went into his office. <DOES NOT WORK>

The adjective 'alone' can only be used as a predicate.

The only adjectives that seem to not work as a predicate are nouns used as an adjective. For example:

The emergency decree was issued.
The situation was highly emergency. <AWKWARD>
  • 1
    You might want to take a look at "How to tell if an adjective is attributive or predicative", and see if it answers your questions. It has no accepted answer, but the comments by John Lawler and Kris are good. Jan 23, 2019 at 13:29
  • Not prefixes, but attributive (or pre-head) modifiers, as in "aggressive dogs". There's no special term: they are just known as either 'adjectives', 'attributive-only adjectives, or never-attributive' adjectives', depending on their individual properties.
    – BillJ
    Jan 23, 2019 at 13:43

1 Answer 1


There are two kinds of adjectives:

attributive and predicative adjectives

According to Oxford Living Dictionary


  '' Most adjectives can be used in two positions.

When they are used before the noun they describe, they are called attributive:

a black cat

a gloomy outlook

a slow journey

a large suitcase

  When they are used after a verb such as  be, become, grow,  look, or seem, they’re called predicative:

The cat was black.

The future looks gloomy.

The journey seemed slow.

They were growing tired.

  There are some adjectives that can only be used in one position or the other.

For example, these two sentences are grammatically correct:

✓  She was alone that evening. [‘alone’ = predicative ]

✓  It was a mere scratch.  [‘mere’ = attributive]  

These sentences, on the other hand, are not correct:

✗ I saw an alone woman.[‘alone’ cannot be used in the attributive position]

✗ The scratch was mere. [‘mere’ cannot be used in the predicative position].''

So, in your case the adjective AGGRESSIVE is both attributive and predicative, and the adjective ALONE is only predicative.

  • How does one decide if an adjective is predicative or attributive, except by revision?
    – Noaman Ali
    Feb 17, 2020 at 18:29

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