Adjective phrases: functions

Adjective phrases with nouns

One of the main functions of adjective phrases is that they go with nouns and change or add to their meaning.

Hair: black hair, brown hair, straight blonde hair, long red hair.

Adjective phrases before a noun are called attributive phrases.

adjective phrase

noun

She speaks in a

very slow

voice.

We never cycle in

heavy

rain.

I’d love a cup of

hot

chocolate.

Adjective phrases before a noun occur after determiners.

determiner

adjective phrase

noun

Sarah is

my

youngest

sister.

Where are

the

really big

bowls?

I know

some

very good

restaurants.

If the head of the noun phrase is one of the following pronouns, the adjective phrase occurs after the pronoun:

anyone

everyone

no one

someone

anybody

everybody

nobody

somebody

anything

everything

nothing

something

anywhere

everywhere

nowhere

somewhere

noun phrase

head

adjective phrase

There’s

nowhere

nice

to go for a walk here.

I have

nothing

good

to say about it as a holiday resort.

There’s

something

terribly sad

about saying goodbye, isn’t there?

Let’s go

somewhere

different.

If an attributive adjective needs a word or phrase to complete its meaning (a complement), either the whole adjective phrase or just its complement must follow the head noun.

Compare

Are they a similar colour?

adjective (in bold) with no complement

She was wearing a dress similar to the one that she wore when she first met her husband.

adjective (in bold) and complement (underlined) both after the noun head (dress)

I was living in a similar apartment to this one.

adjective (in bold) before the noun head (apartment); complement (underlined) after the noun head

Warning:

For a number of adjectives, the whole adjective phrase must follow the noun when a complement of the adjective is used. These include closed, eager, full, happy, keen, open, ready, responsible, (un)willing, worth.

noun

phrase

adjective phrase + complement

Who is

the person

responsible for security?

Fans

keen to get a ticket

waited all night in the queue.

We have

a boat

ready to leave in an hour.

Adjective phrases with verbs (Brenda is happy)

The second main function of an adjective phrase is to be a complement to a verb. It completes the meaning of verbs that describe what the subject is, does or experiences. These verbs include be, seem, become, feel, smell, taste (linking verbs). When adjective phrases complement verbs, this is called their predicative function.

subject

linking verb

adjective phrase

I

felt

sad.

This soup

smells

really wonderful.

She thought

the room

was

very strange.

That coffee

tastes

too strong.

Object complements

We also use adjective phrases to give more information about an object (underlined) so as to complete its meaning (object complement):

Sitting in traffic drives me crazy.

The fire has made the room much warmer.

Money doesn’t always make us happy.

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