At the Order of Adjectives?

Key Takeaways

  • The order of adjectives in English follows a specific pattern to sound natural.
  • Determiners come first, then opinion adjectives, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, and purpose.
  • Knowing the adjective order prevents awkward or ambiguous sentences.
  • Not all adjectives fit into the categories, but following the order as much as possible creates clear descriptions.
  • Examples help illustrate correct adjective order in sentences.


When using multiple adjectives together in English, we tend to follow a certain order. Knowing the proper sequence of adjectives before a noun sounds more natural to native English speakers. Using adjectives out of order can result in awkward or confusing descriptions.

This article will provide a comprehensive guide to the established order of adjectives in English. We’ll explain the categories adjectives fall into and provide examples of correct adjective order. You’ll learn why adjective order matters for clear communication. We’ll also cover some exceptions and flexibility around these rules.

With the information in this article, you’ll be able to confidently use multiple adjectives before nouns. Your English will sound more fluent and sophisticated when you use proper adjective order. Keep reading to learn how to effectively describe people, places, things and more by mastering the order of adjectives.

The Reasons for Adjective Order

Before diving into the order itself, it helps to understand why adjectives have a set sequence in the first place. What purpose does the adjective order serve in communication?

Primarily, the established order provides clarity. When multiple adjectives describe a noun, ordering them from general to specific prevents ambiguity. The adjective order also groups similar types of descriptive words together. This creates a smooth flow of information for readers or listeners.

Proper adjective order also contributes to the rhythmic cadence of sentences. It facilitates seamless reading aloud and absorption of the description. In short, the set order makes sentences more clear, cohesive, and easy to process. That’s why native English speakers unconsciously follow patterns like adjective order – it optimizes communication.

The Categories of Adjective Order

When using more than one adjective before a noun, the accepted order is:

  1. Determiners
  2. Quantity
  3. Quality
  4. Size
  5. Age
  6. Shape
  7. Color
  8. Proper adjective
  9. Purpose or qualifier

Let’s look at each adjective category in more detail, along with some examples:


Determiners identify or point out the noun that follows them. Common determiners include:

  • Articles: a, an, the
  • Demonstratives: this, that, these, those
  • Possessives: my, your, his, her, its, our, their
  • Quantifiers: some, any, no, many, few, several, both, all
  • Numbers: one, two, three, etc.


  • the tall woman
  • my favorite book
  • those lovely flowers


These adjectives indicate an amount, either specific or non-specific:

  • Numerals: one, two, three, etc.
  • Quantifiers: some, many, few, several, etc.


  • twelve dusty books
  • many bright stars


Also called opinion or subjective adjectives, these convey the speaker’s perspective:

  • Descriptions like beautiful, lovely, wonderful, atrocious, etc.


  • the gorgeous scenic overlook
  • fantastic new opportunity


Size adjectives describe physical dimensions:

  • big, small, tall, short, large, tiny, etc.


  • the enormous oak tree
  • a _ petite_ ballerina


These adjectives describe how old or new something is:

  • young, old, new, ancient, etc.


  • the ancient temple ruins
  • her new car


Shape adjectives characterize the appearance or form of an object:

  • round, rectangular, square, slender, curvy, etc.


  • the circular flower bed
  • slender birch trees


Color adjectives name colors and shades:

  • red, blue, green, orange, lavender, etc.


  • lavender blouse
  • the orange fruit

Proper Adjective

Proper adjectives derive from proper nouns like people, places, organizations, etc:

  • Swedish, American, Mediterranean, etc.


  • English literature
  • the Google headquarters

Purpose or Qualifier

These adjectives describe the function, purpose, or classification of the noun:

  • cooking, reading, gardening, etc.


  • gardening shovel
  • the biology textbook

Why Adjective Order Matters

With so many categories, you may be wondering if adjective order really matters that much. Can’t you just list adjectives in any order and be understood?

While readers may grasp your overall meaning with mixed-up adjectives, following the rules makes your sentences significantly clearer and more eloquent. Proper adjective order sounds more natural to native English speakers.

Using adjectives out of order can come across as awkward, non-native, or even incomprehensible. The wrong order may create ambiguity or unintended meanings. Adjective order avoids these problems.

Consider the subtle effects of order in these examples:

  • A beautiful red convertible (opinion before color – normal order)
  • A red beautiful convertible (color before opinion – sounds unnatural)
  • The slim Japanese vase (proper adjective before size – normal order)
  • The Japanese slim vase (size before proper adjective – ambiguous meaning)

As illustrated, the accepted adjective order greatly impacts the cohesion and clarity of sentences. Using the standard sequence is key for fluent written and spoken English.

Flexibility with the Rules

While these adjective categories represent the customary order, the rules do allow for some flexibility. Here are a few important notes about bending the general adjective order:

  • The categories are more like guidelines than strict rules. Not every adjective neatly fits into the categories.
  • Some flexibility is allowed to minimize awkward repetitions. For example, you may say “the Italian flat Italian pizza” instead of following the exact order.
  • Adjectives can be grouped together without sounding unnatural. For instance, “big old house” flows fine.
  • With only two or three adjectives, order is less strict. But longer lists sound better following the conventions.
  • Purpose and quality adjectives can often be safely flipped without confusion.
  • Rhythm and cadence may require adjusting order for a smoother reading flow.

So feel free to adjust the precise sequence as needed. But do rely on the overall order as much as possible for clarity and eloquence.

Adjective Order Examples

Seeing adjective order in action helps illustrate the proper sequence. Let’s look at some examples of correct adjective order before nouns:

  • My younger Canadian friend loves hockey. (age – proper adjective)
  • The tall green pine trees swayed in the wind. (size – color)
  • She lives in a charming old brick house. (opinion – age – material)
  • I hope to find a part-time office job after graduation. (purpose – noun adj)
  • The brilliant professor teaches five large classes. (opinion – quantity – size)
  • Sarah owns a beautiful intricate glass vase. (opinion – quality – material)
  • We hiked to the rocky icy summit. (quality – color – noun)

These examples demonstrate how we tend to order adjectives from general descriptive categories to more specific details. Determiners like “the” always start off the sequence.

Exceptions and Unique Cases

Certain cases don’t follow the standard adjective order:

  • Set phrases tend to have fixed word order. For example, we say “safe and sound,” “pure and simple,” and “free and clear.”
  • Adjectives can be intentionally reversed for emphasis or contrast. For example, “He’s not rich famous, he’s famous rich.”
  • Poetic or literary descriptions sometimes bend the rules for poetic meter or sound.

Also, for compound nouns, adjectives usually come after the noun rather than before:

  • Attorney general
  • Sister city
  • College football

So feel free to creatively break the rules when needed for artistry or effect. But maintain proper adjective order for clear and eloquent descriptions.

How to Practice Proper Order

If you want to cement your understanding of adjective order, these tips can help:

  • Study the adjective categories and memorize examples for each one.
  • When reading, notice adjective order and analyze the patterns.
  • Consciously apply the rules when you write or speak.
  • If a sentence sounds awkward, try rearranging adjectives into proper order.
  • Ask native English speakers for feedback about your adjective order.
  • Use online tools like Grammarly that detect improper adjective order issues.

With practice, the conventional sequence will start to feel natural. Proper adjective order will enhance your written and spoken English skills.

In Conclusion

When using multiple adjectives together, following the standard order – determiners, quantity, quality, size, age, shape, color, proper adjective, and then purpose – creates clear and eloquent descriptions. While some flexibility is allowed, adhering to the general categories prevents ambiguity and awkward phrasing.

Understanding the reasons for adjective order enables you to appreciates its role in fluent English. If you struggle with proper order, focus on the adjective categories and analyze example sentences. With time, the conventions will become instinctual. Proper adjective order ultimately facilitates smooth communication and adds eloquence to your writing and speaking.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why do we need to follow a specific order with adjectives?

Following the standard adjective order creates clearer, more natural sounding sentences in English. It prevents ambiguity, awkwardness, and confusion that improper order can cause. The set sequence also contributes to the smooth flow and rhythm of sentences.

What are the basic categories for adjective order in English?

The main adjective categories in order are: determiners, quantity, quality, size, age, shape, color, proper adjective, and purpose/qualifier. These progress from general descriptive terms to more specific details.

What if I don’t know which category an adjective fits into?

The categories are loose guidelines rather than strict rules. If you’re unsure of an adjective’s category, try rearranging it with others in the sentence to determine which order sounds most natural. Also rely on example sentences using similar adjectives. With practice, you’ll start recognizing the categories more easily.

Can I ever change the conventional order of adjectives?

Yes, the rules allow for some flexibility when needed. Purpose and opinion adjectives can often be reversed safely. You can also group related adjectives together without issue. But in general, following the typical sequence as much as possible prevents problems.

How can I practice using proper adjective order?

Read texts and take note of the adjective order in descriptions. Consciously apply the rules in your own writing. Ask for feedback from native English speakers. Use online tools to check for issues. Study the categories and standard sequence until it becomes familiar


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