Is it wrong to use the phrase "The alive animal"?

Is it alright to say, "The animal was alive."?

  • I have problems with adjectives preceding nouns and after linking verbs. Some can be used before nouns and after linking verbs such as high, hot...
    – T.N
    May 28, 2012 at 5:43
  • Most adjectives can be used both before nouns and after linking verbs. There are a few exceptions, which you just have to learn. May 28, 2012 at 23:00

2 Answers 2


The animal was alive is a correct sentence. The alive animal is a noun phrase and therefore not a sentence, since at the very least it is missing a verb.

Having said that, I interpret the question as asking whether it is possible to place the adjective alive in front of a noun. In other words, can alive be used attributively? Most adjectives can be used both attributively (before the noun) and predicatively (following a copula such as the verbs to be, to seem, to look). So happy can be used both attributively and predicatively:

  • The happy child [played in the sand].
  • The child looked happy.

But some adjectives can only be used predicatively; they cannot be used attributively. Alive is one such adjective, so the alive animal is ungrammatical. There are many other non-attributive adjectives beginning with the letter a. For example, it is ungrammatical to say:

  • *the afraid child ..
  • *the asleep child ..
  • *the alone child ..

Other adjectives can only be used attributively; they cannot be used predicatively. For example:

  • my maiden aunt (*my aunt is maiden)
  • my sole pleasure (*my pleasure is sole).
  • 3
    Really? I don't agree with this. "The dead animal is here, the alive animal is there." is a perfectly valid sentence in my book.
    – Jez
    May 28, 2012 at 8:35
  • @Jez I'm glad I'm not the only one! May 28, 2012 at 8:44
  • 8
    @Jez, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (p559) lists alive in its group of "very clearly non-attributive adjectives", and denotes phrases such as an asleep child as "strongly ungrammatical". There is nothing to stop anyone using such adjectives attributively, but it is helpful for the non-native speakers on this site to know what authoritative grammars have to say on the issue.
    – Shoe
    May 28, 2012 at 8:58
  • @Jez, how about "There was an alive animal there"? Also, Shoe is right about "alive"; however, Huddleston and Pullum (the authors of Chapter 6 in the CGEL) argue that "expansion by modification or coordination can greatly improve the acceptability of the attributive use: compare *their awake children and their still awake children or *She flashed me an aware glance with the attested She flashed me an aware, amused glance" (p. 559).
    – Alex B.
    May 28, 2012 at 14:45
  • 1
    @user20908, At the risk of trying to prove a point, I think you will find that the cut and thrust in the comments sections on this site often brings out some nuances or extra information not covered in the original answer and leads to a better understanding of the issue, which is rarely as black and white as the original answer might suggest. Whether the OP finds that to be true in this particular case, is up to him or her to say. But I think you have the germ of an interesting question about the function of comments to be asked over on meta.
    – Shoe
    May 30, 2012 at 13:44

The live animal

If you insist on using the word alive, then:
The animal, alive

  • How about "The animal was alive"?
    – T.N
    May 28, 2012 at 5:45
  • "The animal was alive." is a sentence. "The live animal"/ "The animal, live" are phrases (parts of a sentence). It depends on how you want to use. Can you give us the context?
    – Kris
    May 28, 2012 at 5:48
  • 1
    the live animal and the living animal. What's the difference?
    – T.N
    May 28, 2012 at 5:56
  • Living animal is not a proper phrase. An animal is a living thing -- something that lives, as opposed to, say, a stone that's a non-living thing. An animal that is alive is a live animal.
    – Kris
    May 28, 2012 at 5:59
  • 3
    'Living animal' is a proper phrase, and according to Ngram used more than 'live animal' > books.google.com/ngrams/… May 28, 2012 at 6:58

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