How to Order Adjectives 101

Grammar

Grammar tips on adjective word order

 

Adjectives

Adjectives are words that modify nouns. They give more information about people, animals, places, and things. For example:

The large man sitting beside me called for the flight attendant. The flight attendant was very attentive and polite.

 Using adjectives is a powerful tool that makes your writing more vivid and descriptive. For example, compare the two sentences:

The birds flew out of the window and into the sky.

vs.

The little black birds flew out the window and into the bright blue sky.

The second sentence gives more information, and therefore paints a more detailed scene in your mind when you read it.

Adjective order

When you use multiple adjectives, make sure you write them in the correct order as follows:

  1. Quantity (how many of it): Few, several, many, five, 100, etc.
  2. Opinion (the value of the noun): Exquisite, charming, ugly, difficult, easy, friendly, etc.
  3. Size: Big, small, short, tall, etc.
  4. Condition/ State: Dry, wet, hungry, shiny, cracked, slippery, etc.
  5. Age:  Young, old, 10-years-old, new, etc.
  6. Shape: Round, obtuse, square, triangular, etc.
  7. Color: Red, blue, green, etc.
  8. Pattern (the pattern or design it was made with): Checkered, spotted, plaid, etc.
  9. Origin (where it is from): American, African, Asian, European, Martian, etc.
  10. Material (what it is made of): Glass, wood, plastic, concrete, etc.
  11. Purpose (what it is used for): Shopping, training, walking, etc.

Using commas and conjunctions to join adjectives

With two or more adjectives from the same category, commas, and conjunctions like “and”  should be used between the interchangeable words. For example:

The man in the red and yellow shirt was waiting outside the door.

She was a lively and carefree person.

There was a cold, hungry look in his eyes.

Note that the use of the comma between equivalent adjectives could also be removed, but it would change the meaning. For instance, let’s look at the last example above:

“There was a cold, hungry look in his eyes.”

With the comma, we mean: He had a cold look in his eyes, and he had a hungry look in his eyes.

Without the comma, we mean: He had a hungry look that was cold.

So, as is often the case with English grammar rules, be wary of when you use commas!

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