Postpositive adjectives

Postpositive adjectives are adjectives that follow the nouns they modify. Such constructions evince the influence that Romance languages, especially French, have had and still have on English. French, Spanish, and Italian all use postpositive adjectives as a rule.

In general, postpositive adjectives sound unnatural in English, but there are a few set phrases that conventionally comprise modifiers following nouns—for example:

  • accounts payable
  • attorney general
  • body politic
  • court martial
  • God almighty
  • heir apparent
  • notary public
  • poet laureate
  • postmaster general
  • time immemorial
  • words unspoken

Elsewhere, postpositive adjectives are used to provide emphasis or to lend a poetic flourish to a line of text. There are a few English nouns that tend to take postpositive adjectives more often than usual. Things and matters are probably the biggest ones—for example, matters unknown, things innumerable.

To pluralize phrases that conventionally use postpositive adjectives, we usually make the noun plural—for example, poets laureate, attorneys general, courts martial—but some writers treat such phrases as compound nouns and put the s at the end.

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