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English Grammar

Adjective order in English
How to place adjectives in the correct order.


ADJECTIVE ORDER

When using more than one adjective in English, the adjectives should be placed in the correct order.
The general sequence is as shown below, although the order is not totally fixed.
  • Determiner - Opinion - Size - Age - Shape - Colour - Origin - Material - Purpose, followed by the noun.
  • Determiners are words such as 'a', 'an', 'this', 'that', 'one', 'two', 'my', 'your', 'some', 'many' ...
    Numbers can also be determiners: ordinal (first, second, third...) and cardinal (one, two, three...)
    Examples:
    - a famous old building
    - an enormous American ship
    - that troublesome little boy
    - six old blue plastic cups

  • The adjective denoting purpose or use comes directly before the noun:
    - coctail dress, sailing boat, pin cushion, sun hat, washing machine, wedding ring etc.
It is very unusual to have more than three, or perhaps four, adjectives in an English sentence, so the following example containing eight adjectives would be highly unlikely ... but possible!

- a horrible little old round pink English cotton sun hat.

Determiner ADJECTIVES NOUN
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8  
Opinion Size Age Shape Colour Origin Material Purpose
A horrible little old round pink English cotton sun HAT

The following combinations would be more usual:

  • A gorgeous new French coctail dress
  • A charming old coffee shop
  • A small blue Spanish fishing boat
  • A dirty old brown leather bag
  • An elegant striped linen jacket
  • A beautiful red Italian racing car
  • A lovely old gold wedding ring
  • Two large cracked glass bowls
  • That ugly old derelict building
  • A ravishing black silk dress

Use of commas between adjectives

A comma is used between two adjectives when they describe the same noun equally and  are interchangeable. Their order can be swapped.
To put it simply, if you use two similar kinds of words to describe something, you should use a comma to separate them.
When the position of the adjectives cannot be changed, no comma is used.

Interchangeable adjectives : A comma is used

In the following examples the adjectives are of a similar sort: ‘opinions’, and their order is interchangeable, so a comma is used.

  • A few flattering, well-chosen words. → A few well-chosen, flattering words.
  • An elegant, fashionable dress. → A fashionable, elegant dress.
  • A cheerful, relaxed person. → A relaxed, cheerful person.

Non-interchangeable adjectives : No comma is used

In the following examples the order of the adjectives cannot be changed, so no comma is necessary.

  • « A big old house »
    NOT « an old big house. » because ’size’ comes before ‘age’.
  • « A silk cocktail dress. »
    NOT « a cocktail silk dress. » because ‘material’ comes before ‘purpose’.
  • « A big red car. »
    NOT « A red big car » because ‘size’ comes before ‘colour’.

Using 'and' between adjectives

'And' is used to separate two or more colour adjectives:
- She owns a black and white cat.
- The flag has yellow and blue stripes on a white background.


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