You may have heard about proper nouns. They’re nouns that are capitalized, typically people’s names, cities, countries, brand names, or days of the week. But how about proper adjectives? Can you think of a time you would want to capitalize an adjective, or a word that’s used to describe another noun?
Typically, proper adjectives take proper nouns and shift their function to fill the role of an adjective, or a word that’s modifying another noun. Let’s take a closer look at exactly what that means, so you never have to wonder, “What is a proper adjective?” again.
Let’s begin with those proper nouns again. These are the nouns that refer to specific people, places, or things. For example, writer is a noun, but Shakespeare is a proper noun. Likewise, country is a noun, but Canada is a proper noun.
Proper nouns are, in fact, the origin of proper adjectives. If Shakespeare is a proper noun, then Shakespearean is a proper adjective. If Canada is a proper noun, then Canadian is a proper adjective. Just like proper nouns, proper adjectives need to be capitalized, too.
Sometimes, proper adjectives are used to succinctly describe something. This is similar to a regular adjective, but proper adjectives are far more specific.
Using our original two examples, you can see how it’s more succinct to write, “That Shakespearian play was fantastic,” than, “That play we saw, which was written by Shakespeare, was fantastic.”
Writers tend to prefer to use the first option. If a writer is too verbose, readers will only trip over their words and grow frustrated or — worse — bored. Let’s look at one more example:
“The British prime minister will visit soon” is far more concise than, “The prime minister currently in office in Britain will visit soon.”
So, one use is to build your adjective vocabulary to accurately and directly describe things with adjectives related to important proper nouns.
Proper adjectives can also be used in a metaphorical sense. Consider this sentence: “Their tragic romance was of Shakespearean proportions.” The proper adjective in this sentence succinctly indicates an intensity and sadness almost as desperate as the infamous Romeo and Juliet. No one would think the romance was literally taking place during Shakespearean times. They would, however, get the allusion to impending doom.
Academics often use proper adjectives formed from the proper names of important thinkers. It’s a helpful way to indicate certain ways of thinking and certain theories. Someone’s political methodology, for example, might be “Machiavellian.” Meanwhile, someone’s approach to people and society might be “Orwellian” or “Freudian.”
Let’s look at a few more examples of proper adjectives:
You can create a proper adjective in several ways. Often you will take a proper noun and add one of the suffixes -ian, -an, or -esque. Other common suffixes include -like -ese, and -istic.
In some cases, the proper noun isn’t changed at all, as in German cake, or Nixon era. You will be able to tell if it’s a proper noun or adjective from its place in the sentence or the context.
And have you ever heard someone make up a proper adjective up on the spot? It might not be correct, but you’d probably understand someone if they said their supervisor’s actions were “Hitler-ish.”
That wasn’t too hard right? When you see a capitalized word, ask yourself if it’s a person, place, or thing, or if it’s modifying a person, place or thing. Adjectives provide tremendous wonder to our writing. They beef it up in a way that helps us explore new insights and scenes.
Why not continue this study on adjectives with a lesson on demonstrative adjectives? The opportunities abound to color and flourish our writing. All it takes is a well-chosen adjective.