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.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
Proper adjectives are the adjective form of proper nouns.
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.
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.
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.
Some of the most common ones include:
Here are some examples:
But then, some proper adjectives don't follow this logic at all.
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.
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.
Middle Eastern food is my favorite. ✅
The eastern coast is delightful this time of year. ✅
When it comes to placing proper adjectives in your sentence, they work the same way as any other adjective:
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?
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:
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.'
How many English-speaking countries are there in the world?
That concludes this article on proper adjectives. I hope you found it helpful.
Let's summarize what we've learned:
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