What Are Predicate Adjectives And How Do You Use Them?

We often use adjectives to spice up our sentences: while a tree may not be very interesting, everyone wants to hear about the gigantic, magical tree. We use lots of different types of adjectives, but most of them are used in the same way. We place them in front of nouns and pronouns when we want to describe them. But that’s not the only way we can use adjectives. Sometimes, adjectives want some space from the words they modify and so they drift toward the end of the sentence. We have a special name for these moody modifiers that want “me” time: predicate adjectives.

What is a predicate adjective?

A predicate adjective, sometimes called a predicative adjective, is an adjective that is used in the predicate of a sentence. Sentences and clauses are made of two major parts: the subject and the predicate. The subject, very simply put, tells us who or what is doing or experiencing something and is usually a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun. The predicate, also very simply put, tells us what the subject is doing or experiencing and usually consists of a verb or a verb phrase and possibly a direct object, subject complement, and/or other modifiers. In the sentence Dave likes cats, the subject is Dave and the predicate is likes cats.

When we think of adjectives, we usually think of words that come directly before nouns or pronouns, such as the word funny in the sentence She heard a funny joke. This type of adjective is called an attributive adjective. Predicate adjectives, on the other hand, don’t appear directly before nouns and pronouns. Predicate adjectives are adjectives that modify or describe the subject of a sentence or clause and are linked to the subject by a linking verb. In the sentence The joke was funny, the adjective funny is a predicate adjective that modifies the subject joke and is connected to it with the linking verb was.

Predicate adjectives are connected by linking verbs. Before you learn more about predicate adjectives, it is a good idea to review linking verbs by reading our handy guide to them. If you can recognize a linking verb in a sentence, it’ll be much easier to identify predicate adjectives, too. Some commonly used linking verbs include:

 

  • be and all of its forms: be, is, are, am, was, were, been, being
  • look, appear, sound, taste, smell, feel, become, seem, grow, turn, make, stay, keep, and remain

Where do you include a predicate adjective in a sentence?

Typically, a predicate adjective follows a linking verb. For example:

 

  • She looks sick.

Predicate adjectives usually come immediately after the verb unless they are modified by adverbs:

 

  • My uncle is very rich.

It is possible for a sentence/clause to have multiple predicate adjectives used together with conjunctions and possibly commas:

 

  • Do you know if Esteban’s family is Spanish or Italian?
  • The flag was red, white, and blue.

Predicate adjectives are typically located at or near the end of a sentence or clause. They may be followed by prepositional phrases or conjunctions that introduce a dependent clause:

 

  • I was late for work.
  • He was sweaty because he had just run a marathon.

Learn more about prepositional phrases and how to use them here.

Predicate adjective examples in a sentence

In the examples below, the predicate adjective is in bold. You will notice that every sentence that has a predicate adjective also has a linking verb,

Example #1 

 

  • Dominic is sleepy. (The predicate adjective sleepy describes the subject Dominic.)

Example #2 

 

  • This movie looks really terrible. (The predicate adjective terrible describes the subject this movie.)

Example #3 

 

  • The baby elephant quickly became enormous. (The predicate adjective enormous describes the subject the baby elephant.)

Predicate adjective rules & best practices

The most important rule to remember about predicate adjectives is that they are only used with linking verbs. A sentence that doesn’t have a linking verb generally will not have a predicate adjective in standard English. For example:

❌ Incorrect: I read quiet.
✅ Correct: I read quietly.

In the above examples, the verb read is not a linking verb, which means that we use the adverb quietly and not the adjective quiet. (Do note, though, that there is a type of adverb, often called a flat adverb, takes the same form as its adjective counterpart but acts as an adverb, e.g., drive safe, where safe is equivalent to safely.)

Of course, the reverse idea will also be true: if a sentence does have a linking verb, it needs a predicate adjective and not an adverb. For example:

✅ Correct: Turtles are slow.
❌ Incorrect: Turtles are slowly.

With this in mind, you need to be careful of verbs that may or may not be used as a linking verb depending on the meaning of the sentence. Take a look at the following two sentences.

 

  • The dog smells bad.
  • The dog smells badly.

Both of the above sentences are grammatically correct. However, they have different meanings. The first sentence uses smells as a linking verb with a predicate adjective: The dog has a terrible stench. The second sentence instead uses smells as an action verb modified by the adverb badly: The poor dog has a stuffy nose and can’t sniff as well as she should. It is important to keep in mind what you want your sentence to mean so you don’t accidentally confuse a listener by using an adverb when you should have used a predicate adjective.

From action to linking, learn about the many types of verbs and how they are used here.

One last thing to know is that linking verbs may not always use a predicate adjective. Predicate adjectives are one possible part of speech that can function as a subject complement. Predicate nominatives, which act as nouns, can also function as subject complements. You can see this difference in the following two sentences:

 

  • Predicate adjective: Henry is smart. (Smart is an adjective.)
  • Predicate nominative: Henry is a chef. (Chef is not an adjective.)

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