What Are Proper Adjectives? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on August 25, 2023

You won't be disappointed if you're here to learn about proper adjectives. This article will teach you what you need to know about them and how to use them in your writing.

In short:

  • Proper adjectives are derived from proper nouns, meaning they are formed using the names of things, people, places, etc.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Proper Adjectives?

Proper adjectives are the adjective form of proper nouns.

  • As a reminder, an adjective is a word that modifies a noun.
  • A proper noun is a noun that refers to a specific thing by its name.

So, these words modify nouns by assigning them a quality related to a specific thing. They're often used to reveal someone's nationality or religion, to show a similarity with a famous person, or to refer to a period in time.

Proper adjectives, which are specific, differ from common adjectives, which refer to general things. For example, if we say someone is religious, that is a common adjective because it's vague; we don't know which religion the person practices. However, if we say they are Buddhist, that is a proper adjective because it's a specific religion.

Here are some sentence examples that contain these types of adjectives:

I'm an American citizen.

She's read every book she can find on Darwinian evolution.

Eastern medicine might offer you a different perspective.

Though proper adjectives are derived from proper nouns, it's important to remember that they are adjectives and should be used according to their function, which is to modify nouns and pronouns.

How to Use Proper Adjectives

Proper adjectives can be very useful in your writing, not least because they can make your text more engaging to read but also because they can often replace multiple words, making your sentences shorter.

Look at the two following sentences, for instance.

The first one uses a proper adjective, and the other one doesn't:

I'm a fan of Shakesperean prose.
I'm a fan of prose written in the way Shakespeare used to.

Can you see the difference? The sentence is much shorter and to the point. It uses fewer words, making it less likely to lead to confusion.

So, how do you make and use them? Let's find out.

Forming Them

Unfortunately, there's no straightforward way to explain how to form a proper adjective. There isn't just one rule you can follow. But there are trends, and with practice, you'll find that over time, it happens more and more intuitively.

  • The first step is to take the noun form because all of them are derived from proper nouns.
  • Then, you need to add the correct suffix.

Some of the most common ones include:

  • -ian
  • -an
  • -esque
  • -ist
  • -ean
  • -ese

Here are some examples:

  • Europe → European
  • Marxism → Marxist
  • Shakespeare → Shakesperean
  • Christ → Christian
  • Buddha → Buddhist
  • Bali → Balinese
  • Tibet → Tibetan

But then, some proper adjectives don't follow this logic at all.

For example:

  • Thailand → Thai
  • Switzerland → Swiss
  • Alps → Alpine
  • France → French
  • Britain → British
  • New York → New Yorker

If you're unsure, you can always check the dictionary. Either that or make up your own adjective if one doesn't already exist. In fact, why don't you go ahead and try to make your own proper adjective now? You'll see, it's really fun!


You might have noticed throughout this article that all the proper adjectives are capitalized. That's right: They should always start with a capital letter, just like proper nouns. This is what makes them stand apart from common adjectives. It shows the reader you are referring to a specific thing, person, place, etc., rather than a general one.

So that's pretty straightforward: always capitalize a proper adjective. The tricky part can be knowing what constitutes a proper adjective. For example, a category of words often mistaken for common nouns is seasons. Therefore, seasonal adjectives often get capitalized, too, when, in fact, they count as common adjectives.

For example:

I'm enjoying the autumnal smell in the air.

Another category of nouns often mistaken for proper nouns is cardinals. In fact, you should only capitalize them if they're part of the name.

For example:

Middle Eastern food is my favorite

The eastern coast is delightful this time of year. 

Your best approach is to check if the noun your adjective is derived from counts as a proper noun. Then, you'll know for sure whether you need to capitalize it.

Where to Place Them

When it comes to placing proper adjectives in your sentence, they work the same way as any other adjective:

  • Place them right before the noun they modify if they perform as attributive adjectives or after the linking verb for predicate adjectives.

Here are some examples:

My brother is hosting an Italian feast at his place tonight. (attributive)

I didn't realize your borther was Italian. (predicate)

One exception is when you're using other adjectives in conjunction with the proper adjective. When you do that, there's a specific order to follow.

Here's the official order of adjectives according to the Cambridge Dictionary:

1. opinion (unusual, lovely, beautiful)
2. size (big, small, tall)
3. physical quality (thin, rough, untidy)
4. shape (round, square, rectangular)
5. age (young, old, youthful)
6. color (blue, red, pink)
7. origin (Dutch, Japanese, Turkish)
8. material (metal, wood, plastic)
9. type (general-purpose, four-sided, U-shaped)
10. purpose (cleaning, hammering, cooking)

Let's have a look at some examples:

I bought a small French press for my morning coffee.

Her writing has a surreal, Kafkaesque quality to it.

Have you tried one of these delicious Turkish delights?

Prefixes and Suffixes

Sometimes, you might need to use prefixes and suffixes with your proper adjectives. Let's take a look at each case.

Prefixes often used with proper adjectives are:

  • pre-
  • post-
  • anti-

Do you know of any good pre-workout snacks?

We're learning about post-Thatcherite Britain in school.

They've been accused of being anti-Semitist.

You should never capitalize the prefix unless the prefix itself is a proper adjective, like 'Greco-Roman.'

The same goes for suffixes (they come after the adjective): you don't capitalize them unless they themselves are proper nouns or adjectives.

How many English-speaking countries are there in the world?

Concluding Thoughts on Proper Adjectives

That concludes this article on proper adjectives. I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Proper adjectives modify nouns by revealing a quality about them related to a specific thing.
  • They are derived from proper nouns.
  • They often reveal a nationality, spoken language, religion, or a resemblance to a famous person. 
  • Always capitalize proper adjectives.
  • Place them before the noun they modify unless they're a predicate adjective, which should come after the linking verb.
  • Don't capitalize any prefixes or suffixes unless they themselves are proper adjectives.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our Grammar Book, a free online database of grammar articles similar to this one.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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