The red ball is expensive.

The ball is red.

The answer is absolutistic in its nature.

The absolutistic answer that he provided didn't quite fit the given problem.

In the four examples above I can easily place adjectives "red" and "absolutistic" before the noun that they are modifying or right after the verb "is".

However, I can't do that with all adjectives:

The new law is in force as of today.

The in force law gives more freedom to people.

The Constitution is in effect now.

The in effect Constitution must be observed.

My question is: Is it just because these are two-word adjectives or there exist some one-word adjectives that don't boast the same freedom of placement as "red" and "absolutistic"?

Additional question: Is there any grammar term for such adjectives that don't have such freedom?

The Wikipedia page on adjective provides such terms as Prepositive adjectives and Postpositive adjectives, but doesn't seem to provide a term for adjectives that can be both.

  • Wikipedia gives examples of the same adjective (happy) used in both ways. It doesn't imply that these terms describe different adjectives. Dec 30, 2020 at 9:18
  • @KateBunting - Neither did I. But I need a term for such an adjective like "happy", that is, an adjective that can be used in both ways -- can be both prepositive and postpositive. And a term for those adjectives that can't.
    – brilliant
    Dec 30, 2020 at 9:35

1 Answer 1


There is interesting recent work on a very similar phenomenon by Adele Goldberg. This work is in linguistics, but it is written in quite a simple style, and can be understood by the non-specialist. Goldberg was interested in why you can say things like

  • The boy is awake

but not

  • The awake boy went home

See https://adele.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/277/2015/04/GoldbergBoyd2015_ReplyToYang-1.pdf

Traditionally (and often still today), the red ball is said to contain an attributive use of red, whereas the ball is red is said to contain a predicative use.

  • 1
    Thanks a million! Very interesting source and directly related to my question!
    – brilliant
    Dec 30, 2020 at 10:59
  • Glad to hear it. I just realised the linked paper is a reply to a criticism of Goldberg's original paper. You may want to look up the original paper first.
    – legatrix
    Dec 30, 2020 at 11:00
  • (The criticism is also worth reading if you're interested; Charles Yang is a very good linguist.)
    – legatrix
    Dec 30, 2020 at 11:01

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