Predicate Adjectives

What Are Predicate Adjectives?

A predicate adjective is an adjective that follows a linking verb and describes the subject. For example:
  • Jack is great.
  • (In this example, the subject is "Jack." The linking verb is "is," and the predicate adjective, which describes "Jack," is "great.")

Table of Contents

  • Examples of Predicate Adjectives
  • Identifying Predicate Adjectives
  • Real-life Examples of Predicate Adjectives
  • Predicate Adjectives versus Predicate Nominatives
  • Why Predicate Adjectives Are Important
  • Test Time!
A predicate adjective contrasts with an attributive adjective, which typically sits immediately before the noun it modifies.
predicate adjective

Examples of Predicate Adjectives

Below are some examples of predicate adjectives. In these examples, the predicate adjective is shaded and the subject being modified is in bold.
  • Lee seems drunk.
  • (The linking verb is "seems.")
  • Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else.
  • (The linking verb is "is.")
  • If you look good, you don't need a purpose in life.
  • (The linking verb is "look.")
  • What can you say about a society which says that God is dead, and Elvis is alive?
  • (In both cases, the linking verb is "is.")

Identifying Predicate Adjectives

The trick to identifying predicate adjectives is spotting linking verbs. The linking verbs include the following:
  • The verb to be (in its various forms, e.g., am, are, is, was, were, will be, has been, have been).
  • The "sense" verbs (e.g., to feel, to look, to smell, to taste, to sound).
  • The "status" verbs (e.g., to appear, to become, to continue, to grow, to seem, to turn).
A linking verb will always be completed by an adjective (a predicate adjective) or a noun (a predicate nominative). Read more about linking verbs.

Real-life Examples of Predicate Adjectives

In these real-life examples featuring predicate adjectives, the linking verbs are in bold and the predicate adjectives are shaded.
  • So go ahead. Fall down. The world looks different from the ground. (Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey)
  • It always seems impossible until it is done. (President Nelson Mandela)
  • ("Done" is a past participle, a type of adjective.)
  • Some people will never take a bite if the food smells too fishy, fermented, or cheesy. (Celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi)
  • (As shown here, a linking verb can be completed by a string of predicate adjectives.)

Predicate Adjectives versus Predicate Nominatives

Quite often, a linking verb is completed by a noun or a noun phrase (called a predicate nominative). Compare these two examples:
  • John is great.
  • (Here, the linking verb "is" is completed by a predicate adjective.)
  • John is a thief.
  • (Here, the linking verb "is" is completed by a predicate nominative. "A thief" is a noun phrase. It is not an adjective.)
Both predicate adjectives and predicate nominatives are known as subject complements. Read more about predicate nominatives.

Why Predicate Adjectives Are Important

Here are two good reasons to care about predicate adjectives.

(Reason 1) Don't use an adverb when an adjective is needed.

A linking verb can only be completed by a predicate adjective or a predicate nominative (i.e., a noun or a pronoun). It is never completed by an adverb.
  • Your soup tastes badly.wrong cross
  • ("Tastes" is a linking verb. "Badly" is an adverb, which can't be used to complete a linking verb.)
  • Your soup tastes bad. correct tick
  • ("Bad" is an adjective (a predicate adjective).)
Somewhat ironically, this mistake is typically made by people who know enough grammar to consciously think about whether to use an adjective or an adverb. Knowing that adverbs modify verbs, they use an adverb. However, "tastes" is a linking verb, not a normal verb. It can be completed by an adjective but not an adverb.
  • Her hair looks amazingly. wrong cross
  • ("Looks" is a linking verb. "Amazingly" is an adverb, which can't complete a linking verb.)
  • Her hair looks amazing. correct tick
  • ("Amazing" is an adjective.)

(Reason 2) Use the right case when speaking a foreign language.

In English, adjectives do not change depending on whether they're used attributively or predicatively. Therefore, with the exception of the adverb-adjective mix-up covered in "Reason 1" above, predicate adjectives do not cause many writing mistakes for native English speakers. However, in some other languages (e.g., Russian), subject complements (i.e., predicate adjectives and predicate nominatives) change case (in Russian, for example, they change into the instrumental case). So, if you're learning a foreign language whose subject complements change case, then you should care about predicate adjectives (and predicate nominatives for that matter).

Key Point

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.