Imagine a world without order.
Even the simplest activities would fail disastrously.
Take getting dressed.
You can’t put on your shoes before your socks, your tie before your shirt or your pants before your underwear.
Well… you could, but you’d look crazy and you’d feel pretty uncomfortable.
So how do we avoid such problems in life, no matter how big or small?
We learn how to do things in the right order.
We know what comes first and what comes next, whether it’s putting on our clothes or putting English words into a sentence.
The order of adjectives in English is a particularly tricky one for language learners.
However, once you memorize the rules, it’s easy to apply them to any sentence you want to create.
In this post, we’ll show you the 10 simple steps to put any English adjective in its place.
Get in Order! The Step-by-step Guide to Order of Adjectives in English
How Adjective Order Works in English
Most English learners have little trouble adding one adjective to their sentences. But as soon as you want to use more than one adjective, things can get complicated (as you’ll see below!). Correctly incorporating multiple adjectives into your speech and writing will instantly make you sound more fluent.
The position of an adjective depends on what type of adjective it is. Is the adjective describing the noun’s appearance? Is it telling you the quantity of the noun? Is it telling you what the noun is made of? All of these factors will influence the adjective’s position.
To make things even more complicated, many native English speakers don’t even realize these rules exist. They just instinctively know that certain types of adjectives come before or after others!
In this article, we’ll discuss each type of English adjective in the order it appears in a sentence. Here’s the list of each adjective type, in order, for you to refer back to:
Quantity, opinion/value, size, temperature, age, shape, color, origin, material, purpose
Now let’s take a close look at those categories.
The 10 English Adjective Types in Order
The adjective order below is a slightly flexible rule—be aware that there are some exceptions and there can be slight variations between the different types of English (such as American, British and Australian).
If in doubt, place the more generalized adjectives first, followed by the adjectives that provide more specific detail about the nouns.
If you want to learn these rules in the natural way that native speakers use them, check out FluentU. FluentU provides real-world English videos, like movie trailers, music videos, inspiring talks and more, that’ve been transformed into language learning experiences.
You’ll hear how English speakers create sentences in many different contexts—the videos are organized by genre and learning level, so it’s easy to find ones that work for you. Better yet, you can click on the captions for an instant definition and pronunciation of any word you don’t recognize. There are also flashcards and exercises to help you remember what you learned.
As you’re learning adjective order, check out this slightly silly video where a man describes himself with several adjectives in a row. You can explore the full video library for free with a FluentU trial.
Adjectives describing the quantity of the noun come first. These include numbers (one, 4.5, 100) or adjectives such as many, several, few, etc.
If there’s only one of the noun you’re referring to, you can use the word a to signify a single object.
These adjectives communicate how the noun is viewed by yourself or others. These are subjective terms. Adjectives such as wonderful, unusual, annoying or delicious describe opinion/value.
A wonderful chair
Adjectives describing the size of the noun are placed next. This word tells the reader or listener how big or small the noun is. A variety of words can be used to explain this including large, huge, tiny and mini.
A wonderful little chair
One exception here that you may notice is the word “big,” which often comes before an opinion/value word. For example, “the big bad wolf” is a character in the story “The Three Little Pigs.”
The adjectives placed next in line give information about the temperature, if necessary. Cold, cool, freezing, warm or hot can describe temperature.
A wonderful little cold chair
Age doesn’t have to be a number. Age can also be communicated with words that explain the time period or era the noun lived in or was created in. Adjectives used here could be new, young, antique and prehistoric.
A wonderful little cold antique chair
Next in line are the adjectives that describe shape. Angular, round and square are some of the words you could use to communicate the shape the noun looks like.
A wonderful little cold antique square chair
Adjectives describing color, such as brown, blue or silver, are positioned next. This also includes hair or fur color. Words such as brunette and blonde can be used when describing the coloring of a person’s hair or an animal’s fur.
A wonderful little cold antique square red chair
Adjectives that describe where the noun came from tell the reader or listener about its origin. Adjectives suitable here could include American, British, Dutch, Indian or Australian.
A wonderful little cold antique square red American chair
These adjectives simply indicate what the noun is made of. Adjectives here could be wood, metal, paper, silk or rubber.
A wonderful little cold antique square red American wood chair
The last adjective before the noun describes its purpose. This explains what the noun is used for. For example, a tennis ball is used for tennis. A stirring spoon is used for stirring. A diving pool is used for diving. You get the idea.
A wonderful little cold antique square red American wood rocking chair
Why Don’t We Use Commas Between the Adjectives?
When you use multiple adjectives from different categories, as we did above, they function as cumulative adjectives. You don’t need to put commas between cumulative adjectives.
However, if you used several adjectives from the same category, they’d be coordinate adjectives. You do need commas between coordinate adjectives and the order that you use them in doesn’t matter.
The stupid, pointless, frustrating homework assignment
These are all opinion/value adjectives, so they need commas and they could be rearranged:
The frustrating, pointless, stupid homework assignment
How to Choose Adjectives Wisely
I know what you’re thinking.
“A wonderful little cold antique square red American wood rocking chair” is a mouthful of a phrase!
That’s why it’s important not to use too many adjectives. Too many adjectives give off a very confusing message to readers and listeners. Instead, focus on learning the position of each type so that when you do need one, you know exactly where to put it.
Look at this example:
A magnificent huge newly-opened blue American water swimming pool
Not all of these adjectives are relevant. We know that swimming pools are made of water and they’re blue.
On the other hand, chairs can be made from a variety of materials and could be any color. Using an adjective that describes the type of material the chair is made from is giving the listener or reader information they don’t already have. This information is relevant. It’s needed to create a more detailed picture in their mind.
As a general rule, try to focus on only two, three or four adjectives that’ll add the most description to your sentence. Once you’ve selected these few adjectives, simply place them in the order stated above.
A wonderful antique wood rocking chair
A large brown American reclining chair
An antique Chinese chair
A cold blue metal chair
The best way to learn is to give it a go! Take a closer look at how other native English speakers order their adjectives. Listen intently and try using descriptive phrases you’ve heard others using. Challenge yourself and above all, have fun creating interesting sentences!
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