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Proper Adjectives

Proper adjectives, you say? Surely every adjective is a proper adjective? Otherwise, it wouldn't belong to the adjective word class!

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Proper Adjectives

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Proper adjectives, you say? Surely every adjective is a proper adjective? Otherwise, it wouldn't belong to the adjective word class!

In English grammar, the term "proper" has a slightly different definition. It is used to refer to nouns or adjectives that indicate the name of a particular person, place, or thing. Because of this, proper adjectives (and nouns) have different capitalization rules. Don't worry if you don't know much about proper adjectives yet... We will take a look at some examples of proper adjectives, as well as a list of them and some example sentences.

Proper Adjective Definition

Check out the definition of a proper adjective below:

A proper adjective is a type of adjective that refers to the name of a specific person, place, or thing. Because of this, all proper adjectives must begin with a capital letter (no matter where they are in a sentence).

Like other types of adjectives, proper adjectives are used to describe nouns in a sentence. Most proper adjectives are to do with countries and other geographical regions or the names of influential people (mostly historical figures).

Proper adjectives are similar to proper nouns in that they both refer to a certain person, place, or thing, and they both begin with a capital letter. In fact, proper adjectives derive from proper nouns.

For example:

The proper adjective "Shakespearean" comes from the proper noun "Shakespeare."

Proper Adjectives Shakespeare StudySmarterFig. 1 - William Shakespeare was a world-renowned English playwright, poet and actor.

Proper Adjectives Capitalization Rules

Proper adjectives follow different capitalization rules than other adjectives because they are based on names. As a result, they must be capitalized, no matter where they are in a sentence. For example:

CorrectIncorrect
I am a big fan of Spanish music.I am a big fan of spanish music.
My uncle is American.My uncle is american.
Buddhist temples are places of worship.buddhist temples are places of worship.

Sometimes, a proper adjective can have a prefix attached to it. A prefix is a group of letters placed at the beginning of a word to alter its meaning. Unless at the start of a sentence, most prefixes are not capitalized. For example:

“What happened in a pre-Christian society?”

“We protested against their anti-Semitic views because they were violent and discriminatory.”

However, if a prefix comes from a proper noun, it must be capitalized along with the proper adjective. For example:

“The Anglo-Saxon period in Britain lasted from 410 - 1066 AD.”

"Anglo" comes from the proper noun "Anglia," which is the Latin name for "England."

The same can be said about suffixes (a group of letters added to the end of a word) and other word forms that are hyphenated. For example:

“They needed a German-speaking person to translate for them.”

Proper Adjective Examples

Here are some examples of proper adjectives and the proper nouns they derived from:

"I love to eat Mexican food at the weekend."

The proper adjective "Mexican" comes from the proper noun "Mexico."

"DVDs and CDs were Japanese inventions."

The proper adjective "Japanese" comes from the proper noun "Japan."

"I visited a Buddhist temple in Korea."

The proper adjective "Buddhist" comes from "Gautama Buddha," a religious teacher and the founder of Buddhism.

"The Elizabethan era ended with the death of Queen Elizabeth II."

The proper adjective "Elizabethan" comes from "Queen Elizabeth."

It is worth mentioning that adjectives (and nouns) that are derived from the names of influential people are known as "eponymous." The person after whom the word is derived is known as an "eponym."

Proper Adjectives Queen Elizabeth StudySmarterFig. 2 - Queen Elizabeth is the eponym of the Elizabethan era.

Proper Adjective Sentences

Below are some examples of proper adjectives used in sentences:

Proper AdjectiveSentence Example
Victorian (from Queen Victoria)In the Victorian era, the color black was very popular.
Christian (from Jesus Christ)Followers of the Christian religion are referred to as Christians.
Shakespearean (from William Shakespeare)I watched a Shakespearean play at the theater."
British (from Britain)A cup of tea is a stereotypically British drink.
French (from France)For around 300 years, French was the official language of England.
Western (from the West)Do you like to watch Western movies?

List of Proper Adjectives

Although it is impossible to list them all, below is a list of proper adjectives related to geographical locations, nationalities, and languages:

  • African
  • American
  • Asian
  • Australian
  • Brazilian
  • British
  • Chinese
  • Egyptian
  • English
  • European
  • French
  • German
  • Greek
  • Haitian
  • Hawaiian
  • Irish
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Jewish
  • Korean
  • Mexican
  • Middle Eastern
  • Parisian
  • Polish
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Thai
  • Turkish
  • Viennese
  • Vietnamese

Now here is a list of proper adjectives derived from the names of influential people and historical figures. The names of the people are written in brackets:

  • Buddhist (Guatama Buddha)
  • Christian (Jesus Christ)
  • Confucian (Confucius)
  • Darwinian (Charles Darwin)
  • Edwardian (King Edward VI)
  • Elizabethan (Queen Elizabeth II)
  • Freudian (Sigmund Freud)
  • Hitlerian (Adolf Hitler)
  • Marxist (Karl Marx)
  • Shakespearean (William Shakespearean)
  • Victorian (Queen Victoria)

Common vs. Proper Adjectives

You now know about proper adjectives, but what are common adjectives? Common adjectives refer to any other adjectives (besides proper adjectives) that are used to describe a person, place, or thing. Unless they are at the beginning of a sentence, they do not need to be capitalized because they do not refer to the specific name of someone/something.

Some examples of common adjectives are as follows:

Common AdjectiveSentence Example
difficult Writing an essay can sometimes be difficult.
blueI'm wearing blue shoes today.
fastMy car is not as fast as it used to be.
expensiveShe was wearing an expensive necklace.
hotThe weather is unbearably hot in the summer.
shortHe was short compared to his friends.

Proper Adjectives - Key takeaways

  • A proper adjective is a type of adjective that refers to the name of a specific person, place, or thing.
  • Proper adjectives must begin with a capital letter, no matter where they are in a sentence.
  • Proper adjectives derive from proper nouns.
  • If a prefix or suffix is attached to a proper adjective, they are not capitalized unless they come from a proper noun or are at the beginning of a sentence.
  • Common adjectives refer to any other adjectives (besides proper adjectives) that are used to describe a person, place, or thing. They do not need to be capitalized unless they start a sentence.

Frequently Asked Questions about Proper Adjectives

An example of a proper adjective is "Morrocan," which comes from the proper noun "Morocco."

Like other types of adjectives, proper adjectives are used to describe nouns in a sentence. 

Some examples of proper adjectives are:


African

Christian

American

VIctorian

Spanish

Shakespearean

An adjective is proper if it indicates the name of a particular person, place, or thing.

A proper adjective is a type of adjective that refers to the name of a specific person, place, or thing. It must be capitalized. A common adjective refers to any other adjective that is used to describe a person, place, or thing. They do not need to be capitalized unless they are used at the beginning of a sentence.

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