For a long time I'm having trouble understanding the difference between two kind of expressions like those below in terms of meaning, not grammar:

  1. Excited people are looking forward to seeing this event.
  2. People excited are looking forward to seeing this event.


  1. "All navigable rivers are being patrolled."
  2. "All rivers navigable are being patrolled."

As a native speaker, how do these expressions in bold sound to you? Is there any difference in meaning between examples #3 and #4? If so what is it, and why is this so?

  • 2
    Consider using better examples. For instance: "The concerned people are looking forward to seeing this event" versus "The people concerned are looking forward to seeing this event".
    – F.E.
    Apr 27, 2015 at 18:42
  • Based on the example you gave , what do you think is the answer to my questions above @F.E. Apr 27, 2015 at 21:23
  • Better yet, why don't you change your question post to use that specific example (or one like it)? Here's perhaps a more clear cut example: "All navigable rivers are being patrolled" versus "All rivers navigable are being patrolled". In this way, ELL members can write answer posts to answer your question. :)
    – F.E.
    Apr 27, 2015 at 21:30

3 Answers 3


The problem is that grammar is somewhat tied to meaning here. The position of an adjective in a sentence depends on its role.

When used attributively (to describe a noun), as stated in other comments and answers, the adjective comes before the noun:

All navigable rivers are being patrolled.

If you say:

All rivers that are navigable are being patrolled. (Others are not)

This can become:

All rivers navigable are being patrolled.

At first glance this doesn't really seem to change the meaning since:

rivers that are navigable = navigable rivers

Edit: But...

When an adjective comes after the noun it describes (like in the 3rd example), it functions as a postpositive modifier. Changing the position of the adjective (relative to the noun it describes) may bring a slight difference in the meaning of the sentence (the meaning of the word itself does not change!). When used postpositively an adjective connotes an ephemeral quality, one that is present at the moment, but doesn't always have to be. On the other hand, the adjectives used attributively may express either an ephemeral or a permanent characteristic, depending on the context. The difference between attributive and postpositive use of an adjective is explained in more detail in (the middle of) this post and in the comments.

Only some adjectives can be used both attributively and postpositively (while retaining the same word meaning), and these are the ones ending in -able and -ible (such as navigable). (But not even all of those - see later: responsible).

To cover another aspect (this is where grammar kicks in again): if an adjective is used predicatively (in a pattern: subject + verb + object + complement (here an adjective)) it would be in a sentence like this:

Signalisation on the banks made rivers navigable. (Or something like that, I'm not really an expert on rivers).

The upcoming event made people excited.

The meaning of some adjectives (when used as modifiers) changes depending on whether they are used attributively or postpositively. Some examples are: concerned, responsible, present etc. Neither navigable nor excited are among those. Here the meaning of the word itself changes and the difference can be determined by checking the dictionary definitions.


In modern English adjectives are put before the noun they qualify.
There are however archaisms where this rule is violated, reminding us of older usage :

The Astronomer Royal, a knight errant, God Almighty, the Surgeon General.

And foreign expressions like

Persona non grata, spaghetti bolognese.

Since I'm French, let me end with our dangerously irresistible

Femme fatale

who might lead one to actions later ascribed to

Force majeure.


In modern English, the adjective should come before the noun it modifies.

Excited people are looking forward to seeing this event.

  • 2
    I wonder if we could say: People, excited to see this event, were crowding at the entrance?
    – user11312
    Apr 27, 2015 at 18:36
  • You can, but then "excited to see this event" becomes a participle phrase. It still works as an adjective in that it describes the people, but it's not a normal adjective.
    – R Mac
    Apr 27, 2015 at 18:43
  • @R Mac You know we can create a sentence like "People who are excited" are looking forward to seeing this event. You know, deletion can be applied to relative clauses.I want to remove "who are" in the sentence , and then the meaning remain the same ,right? Apr 27, 2015 at 21:21
  • 1
    @RMac "People excited at the opportunity of working for Google should think twice before ....." Apr 28, 2015 at 12:19
  • 1
    This is true a lot of the time. It's very common for adjectives to have attributive function, modifying a following noun ("a red car"), which is what your answer describes. But adjectives also sometimes have predicative function ("The car is red."), postpositive function ("He left to find the people responsible."), or predeterminer function ("He had eaten half a bar of chocolate."). If you look up postpositive adjectives, you'll find some relevant information.
    – user230
    Apr 28, 2015 at 23:29

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