You may have heard of proper nouns, but have you ever heard of a proper adjective? 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.
Like all adjectives, a proper adjective describes (modifies) a noun. What makes proper adjectives unique is that they are formed from proper nouns. That means they must be capitalized. Many proper adjectives are formed using the names of countries (or other specific places), religions or people’s names.
Proper nouns are, in fact, the origin of proper adjectives. Shakespeare is a proper noun, so Shakespearean is a proper adjective.
- Shakespeare is a specific writer. It is a proper noun because it is the name of a particular person.
- Shakespeare had a unique writing style, which is referred to as Shakespearean. Shakespearean is not a noun. It is an adjective, as it describes a type of writing.
My student Timothy has a real future as a playwright. He has a wonderful Shakespearean writing style.
Shakespearian describes his writing style.
To further illustrate, consider that Canada is a proper noun because it is the name of a specific country. Nouns that are from Canada are referred to as Canadian, so the word Canadian is a proper adjective.
- I visited Canada last year. (Canada is a proper noun)
- I saw my Canadian friend from college when I went to Vancouver. (Canadian describes friend)
Proper adjectives are far more specific than regular adjectives. They are often used to succinctly describe something. Using proper adjectives allows writers to get their point across in fewer words than it would take to do so using a proper noun instead.
Consider: Which is more succinct?
- The British prime minister will visit soon.
- The prime minister currently in office in Britain will visit soon.
Writers tend to prefer to use the first option, as it conveys the meaning in fewer words than the second option.
- In the first option above, British is a proper adjective that modifies the noun “prime minister”.
- In the second option, Britain and prime minister are both nouns. There is no adjective.
If a writer is too verbose, readers will only trip over their words and grow frustrated or bored. Building up your adjective vocabulary to accurately and directly describe things with adjectives related to important proper nouns can improve the clarity of your writing.
Proper adjectives can also be used in a metaphorical sense. 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 might be described as Machiavellian.
- Someone's approach to people and society might be Orwellian or Freudian.
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.
Let's look at a few more examples of proper adjectives and the nouns they modify:
- The Chinese dumplings are the best item on the menu.
- So much drama took place during the Nixon era.
- German chocolate cake is very rich in flavor and texture.
- Christian music makes you feel so good.
- The Japanese paper cranes are meant for good luck.
- I love my new Georgian life.
- The African drums sounded loud in the concert hall.
- I dream of a Hawaiian getaway.
- The Russian opera by Stravinsky is very beautiful.
- Let’s have a slice of New York pizza.
- I am looking forward to the band’s North American tour.
- I am really craving some Mexican food.
- I attended Catholic school through 12th grade.
- I just love Romanesque architecture.
- My mom says she loves that song because it’s Sinatraesque.
You can create a proper adjective in several ways.
- Often you will take a proper noun and add one of these 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 with German cake, Nixon era or Methodist church. You’ll be able to tell if it's a proper adjective from its place in the sentence or the context.
Have you ever heard someone make up a proper adjective on the spot? It might not be correct, but you'd probably understand what a person meant if the individual described their supervisor's actions as Hitleresque or Hitlerish.
Explore a few examples of proper adjectives and the proper nouns from which they are formed.
Corresponding Proper Adjective
Practice your proper adjective skills with these practice questions. Try each one on your own, then check your work using the answers below.
Construct an appropriate proper adjective to complete the sentences below. The proper noun on which the proper adjective should be based is in parentheses at the end of the sentence.
- Chicken tikka masala is my very favorite __________________ food. (India)
- Every day in school, we pledged allegiance to the __________________ flag. (America)
- Jerk chicken is a delicious __________________ speciality. (Jamaican)
- I just scheduled an __________________ cruise for our honeymoon. (Alaska)
- I am going to wear a __________________ toga to the fraternity party. (Greek)
Check answers to the practice questions against the solutions below.
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. If it’s a modifier, then it’s a proper adjective. These descriptive words can add 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 add color and flourish to your writing. All it takes is a well-chosen adjective.