Grammar: Attributive

Posted July 21, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

The attributive is actually inclined to the subject position, the first part of a sentence where the noun usually appears.

It simply means that words used in the subject position are considered attributive, a word that mostly appears as an abbreviation, attrib., in the dictionary to indicate that this sense of the word is used in front of the subject noun to modify the noun.

One example that brought it home for me was the noun, bread, combined with the noun, roll. As bread roll, “bread” is the attributive noun that modifies the head noun, “roll”.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page and consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

Credit to: Merriam-Webster;; The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar
Part of Speech: Modifier
General Definition: Designates the position in a sentence taken by an adjective or noun that comes before a head noun. It is joined directly to a modified adjective or noun. The opposite of predicative.

Post Contents:

Dictionary Term: Dictionaries frequently include an abbreviated “note”, [ attrib. ], in definitions to indicate a modification of the term being defined and use of the label is limited to those nouns quite frequently used in this manner.

Attributive Types:
Attributive Adjective Rule: The adjective comes before the noun. It may also modify (and sit inside) a noun phrase) it modifies.

Many adjectives can be used in either the attributive or predicative position.

The post, “Adjective”, may have additional information to read on attributive adjectives and attributive adjective phrases.


  1. Green indicates the attributive adjective
  • red hair
  • pale girl
  • black dog
  • sunny day
  • yellow flower
  • She seems a capable person.
  • There was a grand opening for the new library.
Attributive-Only Adjective Rule: Some adjectives can only be used in an attributive position — in front of the noun — and include:

List of Attributive-Only Adjectives

Linguistics Girl

Intensifying Attributive Adjective Definition: Enhances and gives additional emotional context to the word it modifies.
pure invention utter madness total stranger
Restrictive Attributive Adjective Definition: Limits or restricts the context of the word it modifies.

a.k.a., limiter attributive adjective, limiting attributive adjective

a certain person
bad, vicious man
the main trouble that very day
Attributive Noun Definition: A noun that functions as a modifier for another noun, usually performing as an adjective.
It may act as a compound noun or noun phrase, in which case it is usually hyphenated, which allows a reader encountering the words in sequence to understand them immediately as a modifier. If a compound attributive noun is written without a hyphen, then a reader is likely to misinterpret it initially as a subject or predicate.

A.k.a., noun premodifier

Rule: The noun does not use a linking verb to describe it.


  1. Green indicates the attributive noun, a.k.a., noun-turned-adjective
  2. The following word is the primary noun
  • city streets
  • airplane pilot
  • television screen
  • leather handbag
  • stone artifact
  • I want an ice cream sundae.
  • health-food store
  • heavy-metal detector
  • Wisconsin-Minnesota border
  • sport-utility vehicle
Rule: Attributive nouns rarely move back and forth between the attributive and predicative positions.
Attributive Noun If Placed in a Predicative Position
the greenhouse effect the effect is greenhouse
bank holiday holiday bank

  1. Green indicates the attributive noun

Return to top