Order of Adjectives

What a nice big round old blue German glass fruit bowl!

We often use more than one adjective to describe a noun:

The house was large and impressive.

He was tall, dark and handsome.

They were waving a blue, white and red flag.

We put opinion adjectives (e.g. beautiful, great, fantastic, awful, charming, etc.) before all others. We put the category which is the most permanent or important (usually “type” or “purpose“) next to the noun; these are often part of the noun (e.g. mobile phone, apartment building, railway station, etc.):

We removed the old gas heating system.

I bought a new MP3 player.

Where did you buy these awesome skintight jeans?

Here is the most common order of adjectives in English, though the order of adjectives of size, shape, age and color can change:

  1. opinion (e.g. nice)
  2. size (e.g. big)
  3. shape (e.g. round)
  4. age (e.g. old)
  5. color (e.g. blue)
  6. origin (e.g. German)
  7. material (e.g. glass)
  8. purpose/type (e.g. fruit)

+ NOUN (e.g. bowl)

Variation is possible when we focus on a particular feature:

a round black shape (normal order) → a black round shape (focus on color)

a small new key chain (normal order) → a new small key chain (focus on age)

We use a comma when there are two or more adjectives of equal importance before a noun:

The room was full of cold, hungry children.

What a poor, mean, miserable thing this is!

We want people around us to be healthy, happy and peaceful.

We link the adjectives with and when they come after verbs like be and feel:

She is interesting, smart and beautiful inside and out. (She is interesting, smart, beautiful inside and out.)

I feel honored, thankful and absolutely happy.

We can put a comma or and between two adjectives that describe someone’s character:

We had a clever and imaginative teacher.

We had a clever, imaginative teacher.

When we use two or more color adjectives before a noun, we put and between them:

They own a red and white car.

They were holding a black, red and yellow flag.

Please note that we don’t usually use more than 3 or 4 adjectives before a noun. If we want to give more information, we can use additional clauses:

Ann’s just bought a beautiful well-preserved eighteenth-century French stone farmhouse.

Ann’s just bought a beautiful French stone farmhouse which is well-preserved and dates from the eighteenth century. (This sentence is more natural.)

PRACTICE

Some of the following are in the wrong order. Correct them (the answer key is at the bottom of the page):

  1. a young Asian man
  2. a dark tall man
  3. a wooden big spoon
  4. a long wooden spoon
  5. a birthday big delicious cake
  6. a big Italian opera singer
  7. a frying large old pan
  8. a pair of black leather riding boots
  9. a pink silk beautiful blouse
  10. a round large ball
  11. an old big brick factory
  12. an old wooden ugly desk
pexels-photo-247597

The young Asian man is working in the old traditional paddy field.

Answer key: 1. correct 2. a tall dark man 3. a big wooden spoon 4. correct 5. a delicious big birthday cake (or a big delicious birthday cake) 6. correct 7. a large old frying pan 8. correct 9. a beautiful pink silk blouse 10. a large round bell 11. a big old brick factory 12. an ugly old wooden desk (or an old ugly wooden desk)

Materials used: “Grammar and Vocabulary for First Certificate” by L.Prodromou, “My GrammarLab advanced” by M.Foley and D.Hall

 

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