denominal adjective

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

denominal adjective
The eight most common denominal adjective suffixes in English, in order of frequency (John Algeo, "Vocabulary" in The Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol. 4, ed. by Suzanne Romaine, 1998).


In English grammar, a denominal adjective is an adjective formed from a noun, usually with the addition of a suffix--such as hopeless, earthen, cowardly, childish, and Reaganesque (from former U.S. president Ronald Reagan).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • Our new neighborhood seemed romantic, somehow, and very San Franciscoish, especially to a couple of young people who hailed from Idaho.

  • "A 10-month-old baby, swept out to sea by a tidal wave, was saved from a watery grave when he was carried safely back to shore--in the jaws of a dolphin!"
    (Richard Archer, "Bighearted Dolphin Saves Drowning Boy's Life." Weekly World News, September 21, 1999)
  • "As Thomas sat by the window of the junior day-room reading a magazine, and deeply interested in it, there fell upon his face such a rapt, angelic expression that the sight of it, silhouetted against the window, roused Master P. Burge."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, "The Guardian," 1908)
  • "The president's oration was . . . Lincolnian in its cadences, and in some ways, was the final, impassioned, heart-felt rebuke to all those, including his opponent, who tried to portray him as somehow un-American."
    (Andrew Sullivan, "The American President." The Daily Beast, November 7, 2012)
  • "Consider . . . the slang term foxy. From the morphological point of view, it is a denominal adjective produced by a rule-governed mechanism of word formation, i.e. fox - fox-y. Grammarians classify this term among the most productive canonical derivatives of English, together with such standard adjectives as juicy, sexy, shiny, etc. From the semantic point of view, it instead acquires a novel sense which departs from the standard English meaning. It is frequently used among young men, who apply it to 'attractive, desirable, pretty, sexy' women."
    (Elisa Mattiello, An Introduction to English Slang: A Description of Its Morphology, Semantics and Sociology. Polimetrica, 2008)
  • Denominal Adjectives With the Suffix -ly
    "The denominal adjective suffix -ly conveys the sense 'having the (good or bad) qualities of N.' It forms gradable adjectives chiefly from concrete nouns, as in beggarly, cowardly, leisurely, masterly, orderly, portly, princely, ruffianly, vixenly. With expressions of time, -ly denotes recurring occurrence (hourly, monthly, quarterly, weekly)."
    (Terttu Nevalainen, "Lexis and Semantics." The Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol. 3, ed. by Roger Lass. Cambridge University Press, 1999)
  • Context Sensitivity
    "[In Arenas of Language Use, psycholinguist Herbert H. Clark offers] some putative instances of context-sensitivity. One of his examples is that of denominal adjectives--i.e. adjectives derived from nouns, like 'Hegelian' (from 'Hegel') and 'metallic' (from 'metal'). Many denominal adjectives have well-established meanings, but others do not. Clark gives this example:
    Churchillian, for example, might mean with a face like Churchill, smoking a cigar like Churchill, with a speaking style like Churchill, or any number of other things. In principle, the list is unlimited; in practice, it is limited by what the speaker can assume the addressees know about Churchill, and will be able to see [what] he is alluding to.
    If Clark is right about this, then sentences containing the word 'Churchillian' are context-sensitive . . .."
    (Tom Donaldson and Ernie Lepore, "Context-Sensitivity." Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Language, ed. by Gillian Russell and Delia Graff Fara. Routledge, 2012)
  • Latinate and Native Suffixes
    "Perhaps because there are so many denominal-adjective-forming suffixes in English, they can be divided relatively neatly into those that are Latinate (-al, -ic, -ous, -esque) and those that are native (-ful, -less, -ly, -ish, -en, -ed, -y, -some). The former tend to have stress and phonological effects on their bases, whereas the latter do not."
    (Rochelle Lieber, "English Word-Formation Processes." Handbook of Word-Formation, ed. by Pavol Štekauer and Rochelle Lieber. Wpringer, 2005)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "denominal adjective." ThoughtCo, Mar. 14, 2016, Nordquist, Richard. (2016, March 14). denominal adjective. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "denominal adjective." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 19, 2018).