How To Order Adjectives In English - Rules And Examples

Have you seen that huge, musty, old grammar book? It has so many fun and interesting facts!

To describe a noun in English grammar, we use an adjective; the simplest use of adjectives is in the adjective phrase when a sentence begins with an adjective to give context, clarity, or give description. But what do you do when you have multiple adjectives for one noun?

Well, you can’t just randomly write them in a sentence. There’s a special order for them, depending on their category.

There are 9 general categories of adjectives based on the characteristics they describe, and each of them has a different form of inflections. Not everyone agrees on the exact class of adjectives, but most English speakers follow specific grammar rules when ordering adjectives.

It’s common to have one or two adjectives in front of a noun. And sometimes we even use three. Using more than that is rare, but if you do want to string that many together, just follow this order!

Your listener or reader will still understand what you mean if you don't follow this convention, but your sentence will sound a little funny or jarring to them.

Using the correct order of adjectives in English is something that native speakers do automatically, but it can be really tricky when learning English as non-native speakers. But don’t worry – as you practice, it will start to get easier.

order of adjectives

Position Of Adjectives

When following English grammar rules, this is generally how the position of adjectives is formed in sentences.

(determiner), quantity, opinion, size, physical quality/shape, age, color, proper adjectives, material/origin, type/purpose/qualifier.

Category Of Adjectives With Examples

There are many examples of adjectives, all with different forms and categories. Luckily each one has a simple rule to follow!

Determiner

The first word in a string of cumulative adjectives may be a determiner, and this is a word used with a noun that helps to identify it. While determiners from adjectives aren’t necessarily adjectives, it’s often part of the category of adjectives.

Determiners can be words like articles, cardinal or ordinal numbers, demonstratives, or possessive adjectives, and they are nonsubjective adjectives.

Here are some examples of possible determiners:

  • Articles: a, an, the
  • Cardinal numbers: one, ten, twenty
  • Ordinal numbers: first, tenth, twentieth
  • Demonstratives: this, that, these, those
  • Possessive adjectives: my, your (singular or plural), his, her, its, our, their

Quantity

Quantity sometimes overlaps with the “determiner” category. Adjectives of quantity are words that describe how many things you’re talking about and are often used when collocating adjectives.

Here are some examples of

  • Four, one hundred, a million
  • Few, many
  • Some, most

Opinion

As the name suggests, opinions are descriptive adjectives that we use to say what we think of the noun. They are not nonsubjective adjectives, as they are distorted by personal opinion. Some people distinguish between adjectives like this when stating general and specific opinions.

General opinions can be noun modifiers. For example, you can use the word good to describe many different things.

  • A good book
  • A good parent
  • A good meal

But with some attribute adjectives, you can only use them for certain categories of nouns. For instance, you can say “a delicious meal,” but you can’t say “a delicious book.” As well you can say “a friendly person” or “a friendly cat,” but you can’t say “a friendly book.”

In adjective order, we put general opinions in front of specific ones.

  • What a lovely, friendly teacher! 
  • Alberto has a big, yummy bowl of soup for lunch.  

Size

Next up in our category of adjectives list, we have adjectives that attribute adjectives to indicate the size of something. Here are some examples. You can use the adjectives in their comparative form.

  • Big, large, great, grand
  • Small, tiny, little, minuscule
  • Tall, short

Physical Quality/Shape

Then, you describe what something looks like.

There are a few disagreements on how to divide and make the distinction between adjectives in this category. Some people treat attributive adjectives to describe physical quality and shape in the same category. Others don’t.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary of English, there is a difference between physical quality and shape, and physical quality goes first.

However, some people don’t bother to make two separate categories because there is some overlap. And others put the shape category farther down the list, between age and color.

If you want to follow the Cambridge standard, here are some examples of physical quality:

  • Rough, bumpy
  • Smooth, soft
  • Thin, thick
  • Messy, neat

And here are some examples of shapes:

  • Round, oval, square
  • Triangular, circular
  • Moon-shaped, heart-shaped
  • Geometric, curvy, flat
  • Narrow, wide

Age

This is where you describe how old (or young) something is, and you'll often see these words when collocating adjectives.

  • Old, mature, aged, ancient
  • Young, youthful
  • New, modern, contemporary
  • Centuries-old, hours-old

Color

Next comes any color in the rainbow!

  • Red, yellow, orange
  • Grayish, bluish
  • Peach, lemon-colored

Category Of Adjectives Flashcards

Flip the flashcards for more examples.

Proper Adjectives

In this category, we have proper adjectives like nationalities, cultures, or religions. Remember that these should always be capitalized and don't have superlative forms.

Here are some examples:

  • Somali, Vietnamese, Chilean, and Canadian
  • Inuit, Mayan, Sumerian
  • Hindu, Jewish, Taoist, Evangelical

Material/Origin

Hopefully, these material adjectives help you order and coordinate adjectives. These examples describe what something is made of or where it comes from.

  • Linen, cotton, wool, silk
  • Oak, pine, mahogany
  • Polyester, acrylic, plastic
  • Metal, iron, steel

Type/Purpose/Qualifier

When it comes to these categories, there is some difference of opinion on what to call them. Not everyone separates this class of adjectives or uses them at all.

But the important thing to understand is that these adjectives explain the occurrences of adjectives and what they are used for.

For example:

  • race car
  • all-purpose flour
  • cleaning rag
  • golf club
  • sleeping bag
  • bowling shoes
  • riding boots

Punctuating Cumulative Adjectives

Now that you know what order the adjectives should come in, how do you correctly write them in prepositional phrases and sentences?

Two Adjectives

Coordinative adjectives are when two or more adjectives work side by side to modify the same noun. If you only have two adjectives in front of a noun, sometimes you use a comma, and sometimes you don’t.

If the adjectives come from two different forms of adjectives, skip the comma.

  • That was a large tasty cake!
  • Have you seen her big fluffy cat?
  • He’s wearing a shiny silver ring.

If they come from the same forms of adjectives, use a comma or and.

  • Cody is such an irritating, annoying little brother.
  • Look at that old, mature tree!
  • That sculpture is bent and twisted.
  • A red and white flag is the symbol of Japan.

However, keep in mind that you never put a comma between a determiner and an adjective in noun phrases.

More Than Two Adjectives

If you want to string lots of adjectives together, place commas between them. But never put a comma between the final cumulative adjectives and compound nouns.

Here are some examples:

  • I love that fancy, old, silver fork.
  • My grandmother was a pretty, short, skinny Romanian princess.
  • Marie has an amazing, enormous, spotted lizard as a pet.
  • Jordan loves to walk in his father’s tiny, round, colorful vegetable garden.

Predicative Adjectives After the Noun

In most of these examples, adjectives come before the noun. However, you can put adjectives afterward, making them predicative adjectives.

When you do this, you may need both commas and the word and.

If only two adjectives exist, just use and, not a comma. Follow this rule even if the adjectives come from the same category. For example:

  • My room is comfortable and warm.
  • Their toothbrushes are pink and white.

If there are three or more adjectives, use commas between the first words in the list and between the last two.

  • Dimitri’s kitchen is hot, stuffy, and smelly.
  • Did you know that Camille is smart, beautiful, and funny?

Predicative Adjectives can also be used in the passive form.

  • The two cups of coffee were drunk quickly.

Check your understanding with our quick order of adjectives quiz!

Select the correct order in the following sentences.

Sally has a _______ hat.

Choose the best answer from the choices below

Possible answers

Tommy drove a _______ car.

Choose the best answer from the choices below

Possible answers

The cake that you _______ .

Choose the best answer from the choices below

Possible answers

It is _______.

Choose the best answer from the choices below

Possible answers

Conclusion

While this might seem like a lot of information, don’t be scared! With practice, the simpler adjectives and adjectival meanings will become.

So, keep listening to how others speak and pay attention when prepositional phrases you read. That way, you’ll become familiar with what sounds right.

And in the meantime, check out the other grammar pages on this website. There are lots of interesting things to learn!

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