Adjective Word Order: Rules & Examples

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In English, we have a wide variety of adjectives to choose from, and can use quite a few at once, even to describe a single noun! In this lesson you'll learn the rules to follow when ordering your adjectives in a sentence.

Describing in English

When you want to describe something to someone, you will inevitably find yourself using adjectives. Adjectives are, after all, descriptive words! They are used to modify nouns. You may also find that one adjective simply isn't enough. What if the tree you are talking about is both tall and brown? In fact, using more than one adjective to describe a single noun is quite common and perfectly acceptable in English. Within this, though, there are a few rules to follow.

Adjective Order

In English, adjectives can come after the noun, when used with the verb 'to be.' For example, 'He is short.' However, it's more common for the adjective to come before the noun, and it's here that the rules of stacking adjectives really apply. The basic order for using more than one adjective to describe the noun looks like this:

1. Number

2. Opinion

3. Size

4. Age

5. Shape

6. Color

7. Proper adjectives

8. Purpose/qualifier

The noun would then fall at the very end of the string of adjectives. Now, to a certain degree this can be flexible, but for the most part this is the order in which adjectives fall. If the order is mixed up, the sentence ends up sounding odd. For example, you wouldn't say 'There were ugly seven large boxes.'

English adjectives follow a certain order when they come before a noun.
Adjective word order

Number

Number, or quantity, is the first adjective in the string. It tells you how many of something there are. This can be specific, such as an exact number, or it can be general, such as 'many' or 'few.' For example:

''There were many green caterpillars on the tree.''

Opinion

Opinion tells you what the writer or speaker thinks about the noun being described. This includes adjectives such as 'beautiful,' 'ugly,' 'boring,' or 'interesting.' You can see this in the sentence below.

''The food truck was parked near a disgusting little bench.''

Size

A size adjective tells us how big something is. This doesn't necessarily mean measurements, but how big it is generally. Size adjectives include 'big,' 'small,' 'giant,' 'tiny,' etc. This comes after number and opinion adjectives, as you can see below:

''Three adorable little birds landed on the bush next to me.''

Age

Just like with size adjectives, adjectives telling you the age of something tend to be relative rather than exact. You might see something described as 'old,' 'young,' 'new,' etc. This is evident in the example sentence:

''The dog park was empty except for two cute little old dogs.''

As you can see with these example sentences, English allows you to simply keep adding adjectives, and if they are in the right order it sounds perfectly natural.

Shape

If you describe a house to someone, what do you say? Is it round? Square? Rectangular? This type of adjective tells you the shape of the noun you are describing. For example:

''The large old square bricks fit perfectly into my design.''

Color

Color may be what many of us think of when we think of an adjective. Yet it is not the first adjective when you have several adjectives in a sentence! As you can see, it falls close to the noun, compared to other adjectives such as those for number or age. You can see this in the sentence below:

''Yesterday, I purchased four new round black tables for the living room.''

Proper Adjectives

There are some adjectives that have been derived from nouns. These include words such as 'Canadian,' 'cotton,' 'denim,' and 'American,' and they are called proper adjectives. You often see these when describing the material or origin of something, or the nationality of the noun. For example:

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