Postpositive Adjectives

Post-positive adjectives or postnominal adjectives are mainly placed immediately after the noun. In this lesson, we will learn all about them.

Postpositive Adjectives in the English Grammar

What Are Postpositive Adjectives?

Attributive adjectives are generally placed before the noun they modify (in which case, they are called prepositive adjectives). However, in some special cases, they are placed immediately after the noun. Therefore, we call them postpositive adjectives or postnominal adjective (post = after).

Postpositive adjectives contrast prepositive adjectives which come before the noun or pronoun and also contrast predicative adjectives which are subject complements.

Postpositive Adjectives: Types

We have different kinds of postpositive adjectives:

  1. Postpositive Attributive Adjectives
  2. Relative Clauses
  3. Expletive Clauses
  4. Participle Clauses

Postpositive Attributive Adjectives

Attributive adjectives can be both prepositive and postpositive. Here are the cases where attributive adjectives appear postpositively:

Adjectives must appear postpositively in English when they describe indefinite pronouns and the pronoun 'those.'

We need someone strong.

I saw something extraordinary.

Those anxious to leave ...

Going somewhere nice?

  • In archaic and poetic contexts

I watched the demons dark and wicked.

She had eyes, such beautiful eyes, misted and dark.

  • In phrases borrowed from Latin or Roman languages

mare clausum, mare liberum

Translation: sea closed, sea free

heir apparent

  • In certain fixed grammatical constructions such as:

(a) + noun + this/that/so + adjective

using a postpositive adjective after 'this'

Who would wear a hat this big?

Buy me a painting that expensive and then we're even!

I need a box bigger than that.

  1. opportunities in hand
  2. tasks underway
  3. a case in point
  1. passengers ready to leave
  2. friends happy to see me
  3. guests sad to leave
  4. plans likely to fail
  • when we want to use 'enough' with adjectives, they appear postpositively
  • Carrots cooked enough
  • Cars fast enough

One of the criminals executed was a serial killer.

The girl rested and reassured looked at me.

  • many adjectives with the suffix '-able' or '-ible' can be used postpositively

the best choice available

the only option possible

the best way imaginable

the tobacco companies liable for illnesses related to smoking


Some adjectives whether used postpositively or prepositively may have different meanings. Consider the following examples:

We need responsible people to bring justice.

We need to bring the people responsible to justice.

When used postpositively, 'responsible' has a negative connotation, it means 'at fault' or 'guilty'. But, in the first sentences, 'responsible' has a positive connotation. It means 'dedicated' or 'reliable.'

  • the devil incarnate, God Almighty
  • battle royal
  • attorney general, governor general, postmaster general, surgeon general
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Code Red
  • In some of the titles of books, movies, etc. we can use postpositive adjectives
  • Bad Moon Rising
  • Chicken Little
  • Hannibal Rising
  • The Matrix Reloaded

Relative Clauses

Nouns can take other modifiers besides attributive adjectives. For example, relative clauses come after the nouns they modify.

This is my father who visited us last night.

The book, which I was reading last night, was amazing.

Expletive Clauses

Expletive clauses are a type of noun clause that is placed into a sentence to fulfill the basic meaning of the sentence.
They can act as a noun or adjectives in a sentence. When they act as adjectives, they appear postpositively:

The fact that he is here now is all that matters.

They need me to make a decision whether I should stay or not.

Participle Clauses

Participle clauses begin with a present participle, past participle, and perfect participle. When they act as adjectives in a sentence, they must appear after the noun they modify.

Look at that three old men sitting on a bench.

present participle clause as an adjective

I was left with my heart broken into a thousand little pieces.

past participle clause as an adjective

The girl having cooked tonight's dinner is a chef in a famous restaurant.

perfect participle clause as an adjective

Postpositive Adjectives: Plural Form

When we want to plurize postpositive adjectives or modifiers, we must add the suffix '-s' or '-es' after the noun, not after the entire phrase. Consider the examples:

  • surgeon general → surgeons general (Not 'surgeon generals')
  • battle royal → battles royal (Not 'battle royals')
  • mother-to-be → mothers-to-be (Not 'mother-to-bes')


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