Latin Descriptive Adjectives
You may have noticed that word order played an important role in identifying both attributive and predicate adjectives in English. Attributive adjectives precede their nouns or pronouns and predicate adjectives follow linking verbs. These facts are far less important in Latin and the distinction between these two types of adjectives is academic if not unnecessary, especially for the beginning Latin student.
Recall that word order in Latin is not very important. This is because Latin is an inflected language meaning that the words themselves change to indicate their use in a sentence. So, the question is: does it really matter whether a Latin descriptive adjective is of the attributive or predicate kind?
Take the following example:
Domus magna est.
For the Latin student, there are only two ways to translate this sentence. First:
The house is large.
The large house is. (as in, the large house exists)
In a way, these two translations mean the same thing. The first may seem more grammatically correct to an English speaker, but the second translation really expresses the same meaning. Perhaps this structure of the Latin sentence is more familiar to the native English speaker:
Domus est magna.
In this case, unnecessary word order is used to convey that “magna" is a predicate adjective and like English, follows the linking verb “est." The point is, it doesn’t really matter. It is only in translating from Latin and English that the student must make a choice whether to treat the descriptive adjective as an attributive or predicate adjective. Keep in mind that not all teachers of Latin share this conclusion. Some will require precise distinction among different types of adjectives. For the elementary Latin student, the conclusion above will suffice.
One last note of interest is required here before wrapping up this treatment of Latin adjectives. Recall that Latin adjectives must agree with the noun they modify in case, number, and gender but not necessarily form. Notice that in the last Latin sentence above, “magna" is the nominative, singular, feminine form of the adjective “magnus." This is because as a feminine, fourth-declension noun, “Domus" must be modified by an adjective that agrees with it in case, number, and gender. In this case, the form does not agree because “magnus –a –um" is a second declension adjective. Many beginning Latin student see the –us ending in “Domus" and assume it is a second-declension, masculine noun. This is just one more example of why the gender of every Latin noun must be memorized; Fourth-declension nouns can be any of the three available genders.