Is the grass always green? Answering a client question

Our clients often ask us interesting questions.

Here’s a question from one of our clients that had us scratching our heads for a little while.

Mark’s question

Here’s a question for one of your linguists.

Some adjectives can be used “both ends” without raising an eyebrow, eg. “green” in “The green grass” or “the grass is green”.

But, for some adjectives, the second construction seems wrong. Take the adjective “integral”. “The integral box” meaning “a box all of one piece” seems fine, but to write “the box is integral” seems abusive of the language and not clear.

Do you agree? Do you know what this variation of usage is called, and why the variation is ok for some adjectives but not for others?

Our reply

Thanks so much for your interesting question about the placement of adjectives in a sentence.

You’re correct in thinking that while many adjectives can be placed in either of two positions in a sentence, some adjectives can be placed in only one position.

Read about the two types of adjective placement at Oxford Dictionaries

As for why some adjectives act differently to others, that’s murkier territory. I don’t think I can answer that simply for you. However, now you know the terms ‘attributive’ and ‘predicative’, you might like to read more about the reasons behind adjective placement on the internet.

Of course, we don’t always need to understand why language functions like it does. To correctly place adjectives into a sentence, it’s best to go with what ‘sounds’ right to you, depending on exactly what it is you’re trying to say. Good luck!

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