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Understanding a Proper Adjective (Definition, Examples, How to Use)

What are proper adjectives? How do proper adjectives work? English speakers are more familiar with proper nouns than proper adjectives, though they still use proper adjectives in everyday speech and text. Proper adjectives are adjectives that come from proper nouns.

Proper nouns, as may already know, refer to the specific names of people, things, and animals. Adjectives derived from these names are called proper adjectives.

Here’s a quick example:

Proper adjective
Proper adjective

Common adjectives vs proper adjectives

Most adjectives are common adjectives. Adjectives are words that describe nouns.

Consider the following example:

  • She was wearing a red sweater.

In this sentence, the adjective red describes the color of the weather. Red is a common adjective – it’s not derived from a proper noun, and it describes a generic color.

Proper adjectives, on the other hand, describe specific features of a noun.

Here’s an example:

  • Moving to a new country is a Herculean task.

Herculean is a proper adjective since it comes from the noun Hercules. We can substitute Herculean with difficult, challenging, arduous, or any synonym of these words. But when we use the proper adjective Herculean, we are referring to the qualities of the Greek mythological Hercules. Proper adjectives are also used as literary devices in prose and verse.

Proper adjective
Proper adjective

Features of proper adjectives

The key features of proper adjectives differentiate them from common adjectives:

  • Proper adjectives are derived from the names of specific people, places, events, or things
  • Like proper nouns, proper adjectives are written in uppercase
  • Creative writers would coin new proper adjectives based on real-life events
  • In writing, proper adjectives often demonstrate creativity and depth of knowledge

Identifying proper adjectives is easy. An adjective in uppercase that sounds like a name of a person, thing, or event is likely to be a proper adjective.

Let’s explore a few cases of creative use of proper adjectives before going into the more obvious ones:

  • This is a characteristic Trumpian Tweet.
  • The Putinist policies are widely criticized.
  • The Nadalesque style of tennis is gaining traction.

We can see from the above examples that the three proper adjectives are derived from the names of three prominent people (person, place, or thing):

  • Donald Trump (ex-president of the United States)
  • Vladimir Putin (president of Russia)
  • Rafael Nadal (tennis player)

There’s considerable creative freedom in the English language when it comes to forming proper adjectives. We can use topical events to create our own proper adjectives. However, these adjectives are relevant only to people who also have the same cultural backdrop and knowledge.

For example, the proper adjective Gandhian is common in political contexts since it’s derived from the name Mahatma Gandhi. But if someone isn’t familiar with Mahatma Gandhi or the Indian Independence Movement, they may not recognize the meaning of the word.

Contextual use of proper adjectives

Not all proper adjectives are universally recognized. When using a proper adjective in specific contexts, make sure the reader or listener is also aware of the backdrop. Otherwise, it can create confusion and incoherence in both speech and writing.

Proper adjectives: Examples of Proper Adjectives

Proper adjectives are derived from proper nouns. Let’s check out examples of each type.

Proper adjectives from the names of people

Shakespeare > Shakespearean

Elizabeth> Elizabethan

Kafka > Kafkaesque

Gandhi > Gandhian

Darwin > Darwinian

Machiavelli > Machiavellian

Lenin > Leninist

Orwell > Orwellian

Marx > Marxist

Thatcher > Thatcherite

Buddha > Buddhist

Christ > Christian

Confucius > Confucian

Hercules > Herculean

Victoria > Victorian

Jackson > Jacksonian

Abraham > Abrahamic

Euclid > Euclidean

Freud > Freudian

Note: We can derive proper adjectives from any name as long as they fit a broad cultural context.

Proper adjectives from the names of countries

We can get proper adjectives from the name of any country. Here are some examples, but this list is only indicative and not exhaustive:

America > American

Jamaica > Jamaican

England > English

Ireland > Irish

Scotland > Scottish

Wales > Welsh

France > French

Spain > Spanish

Portugal > Portuguese

Italy > Italian

Germany > German

Netherlands > Dutch

Belgium > Belgian

Luxembourg > Luxembourgian

Switzerland > Swiss

Austria > Austrian

Czech Republic > Czech

Slovakia > Slovak

Hungary > Hungarian

Poland > Polish

India > Indian

Pakistan > Pakistani

Proper adjectives from the names of places (not countries)

We can also get proper adjectives from the names of specific places like regions, cities, and continents.

Himalaya > Himalayan

Alps > Alpine

Atlantis > Atlantis

Europe > European

Asia > Asian

Toronto > Torontonian

Polynesia> Polynesian

Middle East > Middle Eastern

Bali > Balinese

Delhi > Delhiite

Proper adjectives with prefixes

We can also form proper adjectives using prefixes like pan-, post, and pre-. Here are some examples:









Merging two names:




Hyphenated proper adjectives

Proper adjectives can be hyphenated as well. For example:



How to use proper adjectives in sentences

Use proper adjectives just like common adjectives while writing or speaking. The role of an adjective is to describe or define a noun. Proper adjectives play the same role in spoken and written English.

However, always capitalize proper adjectives while writing. There are some exceptions, like gargantuan (from Gargantua), and draconian (from Draco). But in most cases, proper adjectives are capitalized.

Let’s check out some examples of how to use proper adjectives in sentences:

  • She had a Shakespearean way with words.
  • My uncle was a true Elizabethan gentleman.
  • Our professor was a Leninist in her beliefs.
  • They had a very Victorian relationship.
  • His Freudian analysis of her was spot on.
  • The British man walked into the Indian restaurant and asked for a table for one. 
  • I have a Portuguese friend.
  • We were thinking about having Asian food.
  • The Australian accent is difficult to decipher.
  • Joao is a Spanish gentleman who has been working with me for years.
  • The Alpine landscape left us awestruck.
  • If you want to learn about life, go to the Himalayan monks.
  • The anti-racism movement faced steep challenges.
  • There’s very little to look forward to in a post-modern world.
  • Indo-Chinese cuisine is one of the best in the world.


Proper adjectives enrich the English language in several ways. Learning how to use them can a person a better writer and speaker.


What is a proper adjective?

A proper adjective is an adjective derived from a proper noun, such as Leninist, Gandhian, Elizabethan, Kafkaesque, etc.

Proper adjective examples:

  • Moving to a new country is a Herculean task.
Are proper adjectives always capitalized?

Except for words like gargantuan and draconian, proper adjectives are always written in uppercase. Even these exceptions can be written in uppercase.

When do we use proper adjectives?

Use proper adjectives when they are necessary (He is a Russian man), or when it serves a purpose in speech/writing (It’s a Herculean task).

Can we create our own proper adjectives?

Established writers, publication houses, etc. often take the creative liberty of coining new proper adjectives.

Do proper adjectives have suffixes?

Yes, some proper adjectives have suffixes, e.g., English-speaking, Russian-speaking

Do proper adjectives have prefixes?

Yes, some proper adjectives have prefixes, e.g., post-colonial, pre-American, anti-western

Can proper adjectives be hyphenated?

Yes, examples of hyphenated proper adjectives are Indo-Chinese, Afro-Caribbean, Middle-Eastern, Austro-Hungarian

Do proper adjectives begin with a capital letter?

Yes. Proper nouns and proper adjectives start with a capital letter. Many proper adjectives are formed using the names of countries, religions, or names of people. The word “country” is a common noun and does not get capitalized, for example.

What does a proper adjective do?

A proper adjectives (modifies) a noun. Proper adjective examples:

  • She had a Shakespearean way with words.
  • My uncle was a true Elizabethan gentleman.
  • Our professor was a Leninist in her beliefs.
Is a name of a person a proper adjective?

No it is a proper noun. A particular person is a proper noun. The proper adjective describes (modifies) the noun. What makes proper adjectives unique is that they are formed from proper nouns.



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About the author

Dalia Y.: Dalia is an English Major and linguistics expert with an additional degree in Psychology. Dalia has featured articles on Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, Grammarly, and many more. She covers English, ESL, and all things grammar on GrammarBrain.

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