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Attributive and Predicate Adjectives

285. Adjectives are either attributive or predicate.

  1. An attributive adjective simply qualifies its noun without the intervention of a verb or participle, expressed or implied.

    bonus imperātor  a good commander

    stellae lūcidae  bright stars

    verbum Graecum  a Greek word

  2. All other adjectives are called predicate adjectives.

    Stellae lūcidae erant.
    The stars were bright.

    Sit Scīpiō clārus. (Cat. 4.21)
    Let Scipio be illustrious.

    hominēs mītīs reddidit. (Inv. 1.2)
    has rendered men mild

    Tria praedia Capitōnī propria trāduntur. (Rosc. Am. 21)
    Three farms are handed over to Capito as his own.

    Cōnsilium cēpērunt plēnum sceleris. (id. 28)
    They formed a plan full of villany.

    Note— A predicate adjective may be used with sum or a copulative verb (§ 283); it may have the construction of a predicate accusative after a verb of naming, calling, or the like (§ 393, Note); or it may be used in apposition like a noun (§ 282.b).


Rules of Agreement

286. Adjectives, Adjective Pronouns, and Participles agree with their nouns in Gender, Number, and Case.

vir fortis
a brave man

illa mulier
that woman

urbium māgnārum
of great cities

cum ducentīs mīlitibus
with two hundred soldiers

imperātor victus est
the general was beaten

secūtae sunt tempestātēs
storms followed

Note— All rules for the agreement of adjectives apply also to adjective pronouns and to participles.

a. With two or more nouns the adjective is regularly plural, but often agrees with the nearest (especially when attributive).

Nīsus et Euryalus prīmī (Aen. 5.294)
Nisus and Euryalus first

Caesaris omnī et grātiā et opibus fruor. (Fam. 1.9.21)
I enjoy all Cæsar's favor and resources.

Note— An adjective referring to two nouns connected by the preposition cum is occasionally plural (synesis, § 280.a)

Iuba cum Labiēnō captī. (B. Afr. 52)
Juba and Labienus were taken.

b. A collective noun may take an adjective of a different gender and number agreeing with the gender and number of the individuals implied (synesis, § 280.a).

pars certāre parātī (Aen. 5.108)
a part ready to contend

Colōniae aliquot dēductae, Prīscī Latīnī appellātī. (Liv. 1.3)
Several colonies were planted (led out) [of men] called Old Latins.

Multitūdō convictī sunt. (Tac. Ann. 15.44)
A multitude were convicted.

māgna pars raptae (id.1.9)
a large part [of the women] were seized.

Note— A superlative in the predicate rarely takes the gender of a partitive genitive by which it is limited.

vēlōcissimum animālium delphīnus est. (Plin. N. H. 9.20)
The dolphin is the swiftest [creature] of creatures.

287. One adjective may belong in sense to two or more nouns of different genders. In such cases:

  1. An attributive adjective agrees with the nearest noun.

    multae operae ac labōris
    of much trouble and toil

    vīta mōrēsque meī
    my life and character

    sī rēs, sī vi, sī tempus ūllum dīgnum fuit (Mil. 19)
    if any thing, if any man, if any time was fit

  2. A predicate adjective may agree with the nearest noun, if the nouns form one connected idea.

    factus est strepitus et admurmurātiō (Verr. 1.45)
    a noise of assent was made (noise and murmur).

    Note— This is only when the copula agrees with the nearest subject (§ 317.c).

  3. But generally, a predicate adjective will be masculine, if nouns of different genders mean living beings; neuter, if things without life.

    uxor deinde ac līberī amplexī (Liv. 2.40)
    then his wife and children embraced him.

    Labor [m.] voluptās que [f.] societāte quādam inter sē nātūrālī sunt iūncta [n.] (id.5.4)
    Labor and delight are bound together by a certain natural alliance.

  4. If nouns of different genders include both living beings and things without life, a predicate adjective is sometimes masculine (or feminine), sometimes neuter, and sometimes agrees in gender with the nearest if that is plural.

    Rēx rēgiaque classis ūnā profectī (Liv. 21.50)
    The king and the royal fleet set out together.

    Nātūrā inimīca sunt lībera cīvitās et rēx (id. 44.24)
    By nature, a free state and a king are hostile.

    lēgātōs sortēsque ōrāculī exspectandās (id. 5.15)
    that the ambassadors and the replies of the oracle should be waited for.

a. Two or more abstract nouns of the same gender may have a predicate adjective in the neuter plural (cf. § 289.c, below).

Stultitia et temeritās et iniūstitia ... sunt fugienda. (Fin. 3.39)
Folly, rashness, and injustice are [things] to be shunned.


Adjectives used Substantively

288. Adjectives are often used as nouns (substantively), the masculine usually to denote men or people in general of that kind, the feminine women, and the neuter things.

omnēs  all men (everybody) omnia  all things (everything)
mâiōrēs  ancestors minōrēs  descendants
Rōmānī  Romans barbarī  barbarians
līberta  a freedwoman Sabīnae  the Sabine wives
sapiēns  a sage (philosopher) amīcus  a friend
bonī  the good (good people) bona  goods, property

Note— The plural of adjectives, pronouns, and participles is very common in this use. The singular is comparatively rare except in the neuter (§ 289.a and c, below) and in words that have become practically nouns.

a. Certain adjectives have become practically nouns, and are often modified by other adjectives or by the possessive genitive.

tuus vīcīnus proximus
your next-door neighbor

propinquī cēterī
his other relatives

meus aequālis
a man of my own age

êius familiāris Catilīna (Har. Resp. 5)
his intimate friend Catiline

Leptae nostrī familiārissimus (Fam. 9.13.2)
a very close friend of our friend Lepta

b. When ambiguity would arise from the substantive use of an adjective, a noun must be added.

bonī the good
omnia everything (all things)


potentia omnium rērum power over everything

c. Many adjectives are used substantively either in the singular or the plural, with the added meaning of some noun which is understood from constant association.

Āfricus [ventus]  the southwest wind
Iānuārius [mēnsis]  January
vitulīna [carō]  veal (calf's flesh)
fera [bēstia]  a wild beast
patria [terra]  the fatherland
Gallia [terra]  Gaul (the land of the Gallī)
hīberna [castra]  winter quarters
trirēmis[nāvis]  a three-banked galley, trireme
argentārius [faber]  a silversmith
rēgia [domus]  the palace
Latīnae [fēriae]  the Latin festival

Note— These adjectives are specific in meaning, not generic like those in § 288.  They include the names of winds and months (§ 31).

For nouns used as adjectives, see § 321.c.

For adverbs used like adjectives, see § 321.d.

289. Neuter adjectives are used substantively in the following special senses.

a. The neuter singular may denote either a single object or an abstract quality.

raptō vīvere
to live by plunder

in āridō
on dry ground

an honorable act or virtue (as a quality)

Opus est mātūrātō.
There is need of haste. [Cf. Impersonal Passives § 208.d]

b. The neuter plural is used to signify objects in general having the quality denoted, and hence may stand for the abstract idea.

honorable deeds (in general)

the past (lit., bygones)

Omnēs fortia laudant.
All men praise bravery (brave things)

c. A neuter adjective may be used as an appositive or predicate noun with a noun of different gender (cf. § 287. a, above).

Trīste lupus stabulīs. (Ecl. 3.80)
The wolf [is] a grievous thing for the fold.

Varium et mūtābile semper fēmina. (Aen. 4.569)
Woman is ever a changing and fickle thing.

Malum mihi vidētur esse mors. (Tusc. 1.9)
Death seems to me to be an evil.

d. A neuter adjective may be used as an attributive or a predicate adjective with an infinitive or a substantive clause.

istuc ipsum nōn esse (Tusc. 1.12)
that very “not to be”

Hūmānum est errāre.
To err is human.

Aliud est errāre Caesarem nōlle, aliud nōlle miserērī. (Lig. 16)
It is one thing to be unwilling that Cæsar should err, another to be unwilling that he should pity.


Adjectives with Adverbial Force

290. An adjective, agreeing with the subject or object, is often used to qualify the action of the verb, and so has the force of an adverb.

Prīmus vēnit.
He was the first to come (came first).

Nūllus dubitō.
I no way doubt.

Laetī audiēre.

They were glad to hear.

Erat Rōmae frequēns. (Rosc. Am. 16)
He was often at Rome.

Sērus in caelum redeās. (Hor. Od. 1.2.45)
May you return late to heaven.

Suggested Citation

Meagan Ayer, Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-947822-04-7.