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An adjective phrase (or adjectival phrase) is a phrase whose head word is an adjective, e.g. fond of steak, very happy, quite upset about it, etc. The adjective in an adjective phrase can initiate the phrase (e.g. fond of steak), conclude the phrase (e.g. very happy), or appear in a medial position (e.g. quite upset about it). The dependents of the head adjective - i.e. the other words and phrases inside the adjective phrase - are typically adverbs or prepositional phrases, but they can also be clauses (e.g. louder than you do). Adjectives and adjective phrases function in two basic ways in clauses, either attributively or predicatively. When they are attributive, they appear inside a noun phrase and modify that noun phrase, and when they are predicative, they appear outside of the noun phrase that they modify and typically follow a linking verb (copula).
The adjective phrases are underlined in the following example sentences, the head adjective in each of these phrases is in bold, and how the adjective phrase is functioning—attributively or predicatively—is stated to the right of each example:
The distinguishing characteristic of an attributive adjective phrase is that it appears inside the noun phrase that it modifies. An interesting trait of these phrases in English is that an attributive adjective alone generally precedes the noun, e.g. a proud man, whereas a head-initial or head-medial adjective phrase follows its noun, e.g. a man proud of his children. A predicative adjective (phrase), in contrast, appears outside of the noun phrase that it modifies, usually after a linking verb, e.g. The man is proud.
The term adjectival phrase is sometimes used instead of adjective phrase. However, there is tendency to call a phrase an adjectival phrase in such a case where that phrase is functioning like an adjective phrase would, but does not contain an actual adjective. For example, in Mr Clinton is a man of wealth, the prepositional phrase of wealth modifies a man the way an adjective would, and it could be reworded with an adjective, e.g. Mr Clinton is a wealthy man. Similarly, that boy is friendless (an adjective friendless modifies the noun boy) and That boy is without a friend (a prepositional phrase without a friend modifies boy).
Similarly, the term adjectival phrase is commonly used for any phrase in attributive position, whether it is technically an adjective phrase, noun phrase, or prepositional phrase. These may be more precisely distinguished as phrasal attributives or attributive phrases. This definition is commonly used in English style guides for writing, where the terms attributive and adjective are frequently treated as synonyms, because attributive phrases are typically hyphenated, whereas predicative phrases generally are not, despite both modifying a noun. (See compound modifier and English compound#Hyphenated compound modifiers.)
The structure of adjective phrases (and of all other phrase types) is often represented using tree structures. There are two modern conventions for doing this, constituency-based trees of phrase structure grammars and dependency-based trees of dependency grammars. Both types of trees are produced here. The following trees illustrate head-final adjective phrases, i.e. adjective phrases that have their head adjective on the right side of the phrase:
The labels on the nodes in the trees are acronyms: A = adjective, Adv = adverb, AP = adjective phrase, N = noun/pronoun, P = preposition, PP = prepositional phrase. The constituency trees identify these phrases as adjective phrases by labeling the top node with AP, and the dependency trees accomplish the same thing by positioning the A node at the top of the tree. The following trees illustrate the structure of head-initial adjective phrases, i.e. adjective phrases that have their head on the left side of the phrase:
And the following trees illustrate the structure of head-medial adjective phrases:
The important aspect of these tree structures - regardless of whether one uses constituency or dependency to show the structure of phrases - is that they are identified as adjective phrases by the label on the top node of each tree.