Learn how the order of adjectives works
You certainly use a lot of adjectives when you write.
In its simplest forms, you add an adjective before a noun or after the verb to be. Adjectives can add descriptive properties quickly and easily to any noun.
Sue, you know that adjectives are words that modify nouns. But do you know that there are many different types of adjectives that can modify a noun or pronoun?
Not only that, do you know that they have a set order when you use two or more?
Learning how to understand and use English adjectives better is one of the easiest ways to improve and tighten your writing.
- The basic order of adjectives
- Practice using adjectives in the correct order with this quick exercise.
- Order of colours
- The basic types of adjectives
- Comparative and superlative adjectives
- The possessive adjective
- The predicate adjective
- Demonstrative adjectives
- Coordinate adjectives
- Cumulative adjectives
- Do you want to practice using adjectives correctly in your writing?
- Summary of adjectives
The basic order of adjectives
Adjectives have a set order, and although you might think you use them instinctively, learning how to place them in the correct order will help you write much better.
There are nine possible forms, but you would rarely use more than three or four. However, they must always be in the correct order.
Here are some examples in the table below.
Practice using adjectives in the correct order with this quick exercise.
Arrange the adjectives in the right order according to the table above.
1. There was outside the house.
(a dog, black, terrifying, huge)
2. I gave her for her birthday.
(some handkerchiefs, beautiful, white, cotton)
3. There was hanging on the wall.
(a picture, old, wonderful, Impressionist)
4. Have you seen lying on the floor?
(a pair of gloves, brown, leather)
5. She was wearing .
(a sweater, winter, woolen)
6. There is in this town.
(a church, Gothic, very old)
7. My mother bought for the picnic.
(several plates, plastic, blue, small)
8. didn’t feel comfortable living with the British family.
(the girl, French, fifteen-year-old)
9. There were on the shelf.
(a lot of ornaments, china, little, useless)
10. Why don’t you wear ? It’s rather cold.
(your coat, thick, fur)
Order of colours
White usually comes second, or last in a list of colours.
For example with two colours, black and white, red and white, blue and white.
For three or more colours, white comes second as with red, white and blue.
Related reading: 20 Common Grammar Mistakes And Grammatical Errors To Avoid
The basic types of adjectives
Comparative and superlative adjectives
For one-syllable adjectives, adding er makes them comparative. For one-syllable adjectives ending in y, they use ier.
The same applies to superlative adjectives, except you add est or iest.
For adjectives of two or more syllables, you use more or less for comparative and most and least for superlative.
A cooler day than yesterday. – It was the coolest day of the week.
A sunnier afternoon than the morning. – It was the sunniest time of the day.
This car is more expensive. – It is the most expensive car.
It was a less practical solution. – It was the least practical solution.
The possessive adjective
Many adjectives are formed by using the possessive form.
For example, a tree’s leaves, a butcher’s hook or a horse’s tail.
The predicate adjective
A predicate adjective is an adjective that follows a linking verb and modifies the subject of the linking verb.
The most common form is when adjectives follow the verb to be, but other verbs such as seem, look, sound and taste are also often used.
For example, Jane was tall and slender, it is a sunny afternoon, he looks drunk, she seems friendly or everybody sounds happy.
The opposite is an attributive adjective when it comes before the noun.
For example, a friendly crowd, an old drunk man, a sunny disposition or a tall and slender woman.
Demonstrative adjectives are usually the words this, that, these and those.
For example, this big green dictionary, that old wooden armchair, or those beautiful red shoes.
You can read more about these forms on Your Dictionary.
These adjectives carry the same weight. It doesn’t matter which comes first because they have equal emphasis.
The following adjectives are coordinate.
George has a long, bushy beard or George has a bushy, long beard.
My rusty, old car or my old, rusty car.
These adjectives build their meaning in one particular order. You can not switch them around and still make sense.
Bill wore his white tennis shoes. You can’t say Bill wore his tennis white shoes.
Mary bought a bright blue sweater. You can’t say Mary bought a blue bright sweater.
A modern American romance novel. You can’t say, an American romance modern novel.
Another aspect is that cumulative adjectives are generally not separated by a comma and are usually limited in use to only two or three adjectives.
Any more and a phrase starts to sound quite awkward.
Do you want to practice using adjectives correctly in your writing?
Here are two quick writing prompts for you to try.
Look at the two images below, which both have a fantasy theme.
Can you describe the images in a few sentences using appropriate and correctly ordered adjectives?
Related reading: The Best Writing Prompts To Help Spark Your Imagination
Summary of adjectives
If you completed the short order of adjectives exercise earlier in this article, here are the correct answers.
1. There was a terrifying huge black dog.
2. I gave her some beautiful white cotton handkerchiefs.
3. There was a wonderful old Impressionist picture.
4. Have you seen a pair of brown leather gloves?
5. She was wearing a winter woollen sweater.
6. There is a very old Gothic church.
7. My mother bought several small blue plastic plates.
8. The fifteen-year-old French girl.
9. There were a lot of useless little china ornaments.
10. Why don’t you wear your thick fur coat?
I am sure you had no problem and got them all correct.
Understanding when to use different types of adjectives and how to order them is easy once you know the basic grammatical rules.
You can always do a quick check of your adjective use if you are already using Grammarly or ProWritingAid to help you with your writing corrections.
However, it is always better to know the rules and how to apply them to your writing when you are proofreading.
No grammar rule is set in stone. But it is a truism that you should know the rules before you try to (creatively) break them.
Related grammar reading: So, Can You Start A Sentence With But, And Or Yet?