Mastering Adjective Order in English

Hannah Johnson
March 30, 2022 ·
2 min read
Grammar

Unlike languages with more loose word order, English is rather demanding on how several adjectives should be placed within a sentence. Even though putting adjectives in the wrong order probably won’t get you into much trouble, it’s still a matter of language proficiency, which can be crucial when taking exams or applying for a job with high language requirements. 

So, let’s investigate how to combine adjectives in the English language like a pro!

Basic adjective order

In real life, we don’t often use more than 2-3 adjectives in a row. However, it’s still important to put them in the right order. And if you’re taking an examination, you can well be asked to place three or more adjectives in the correct order in a sample sentence. This is where you’ll need to recall the general adjective sequence, which goes as follows:

#MeaningExample
1opinion/attitudewonderful, blatant, strange
2sizetiny, enormous, medium-sized
3physical qualitymild, rough, slippery
4shapesquare, rectangular, round
5ageyoung, ancient, elderly
6colorblack, violet, yellow
7origin/nationalityChinese, South African, Arctic
8materialwooden, leather, metal
9purposedining, cleaning, training

Examples:

  • We saw beautiful gigantic ancient sequoias in the national park. (opinion, size, age)
  • She gave me this weird red Japanese plastic device. (opinion, color, origin, material)
  • Have you seen my favorite big dotted coffee cup? (opinion, size, color, purpose)

If two or more adjectives in a sentence happen to be from the same group, they are usually separated with a comma, the last one typically being connected with an “and”:

  • There were lots of tiny blue, red and yellow flowers in the garden.
  • This was the first glass and concrete building in our town.

Specific cases

In the examples above, all adjectives are positioned before the noun, but there are also cases when we use them after a linking verb (such as be, seem, become, feel, etc.):

  • The house was old and derelict.

Or, we can put it another way:

  • It was an old and derelict house.

Please note that certain adjectives are only used after a linking verb. These are called predicative adjectives. Often, they start with a prefix a-, with a few exceptions. Here are some examples:

  • afraid
  • alike
  • alive
  • awake
  • ill
  • well

Incorrect: We found an afraid little boy in the kitchen. 

Correct: We found a frightened little boy in the kitchen. 

Correct: The little boy we found in the kitchen was afraid.

Incorrect: I saw an ill old dog.

Correct: I saw a sick old dog.

Correct: The dog I saw was ill and old.

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As you can see, mastering adjective order in English is not rocket science, although it might require some training to memorize the sequence.