The rule of adjective order

3 min read

The spotted young playful five dogs ran and jumped all over the park.

Sounds a little funny, doesn’t it? That’s because the sentence is breaking the rules of adjective order. Even if you’ve never heard of adjective order before, all native and fluent English speakers follow the rules. When you looked out your bright yellow curtains this morning did you think about whether bright or yellow should come first? Nope, because you just know instinctively how they’re supposed to go.

But if you really want a breakdown, or you’re learning the confusing rules of English for the first time, let’s walk through the rule of adjective order.

In order, adjective order

The rule of adjective order refers to the order in which adjectives are placed in a sentence. In other words, if you have more than one adjective describing a noun, this rule determines which adjective you should put first. Below is the proper order of adjective type.

As a note, some people include “determiner” at the beginning of this list, but we’re excluding it because they’re not really adjectives. Determiners are the articles or other limiters that start off the adjective list — things like a, an, the, our, my, etc.

1. Quantity or number — four, five, many, few

Quantity or number is as simple as it sounds. If there is an amount, it goes first. This is usually the easiest to identify.

2. Opinion — pretty, lovely, gross, boring, amazing, hard

Opinions are also called observations, and are adjectives that someone might consider biased. You may look at a painting and find it beautiful, whereas someone else might consider them ugly. A task that you find to be easy might be difficult for another.

3. Size — huge, small, mammoth, 5 feet tall, 36 inches wide

Size can be a judgment call, or it can also be a concrete, measurable descriptor. Whether or not it involves a number, size lands third in adjective order.

4. Shape — triangular, oblong, circular, round

A shape adjective describes the physical configuration of something. It may refer to an actual shape or the general outline of an object.

5. Age — five-year, twelve-minute, young, antique, mature, modern, old

An age adjective tells you how old or young something or someone is. It can be a specific number or a general descriptor.

6. Color — purple, marigold, black, pale, sparkly

This one’s pretty obvious as well. It can be your standard rainbow colors, or it can be a description of the quality of the color, such as bright or translucent.

7. Origin — French, Italian, Martian, urban

An origin adjective describes the source of something. Where did the noun come from? Generally this shows up as a proper noun, but it could be something like like rural or urban.

8. Material — gold, wooden, polyester, silk, plastic

Material refers to what the noun is physically made of. This can get a bit confusing if you're using a word like gold, which could be a color or a material, or both.

9. Purpose — cooking, cleaning, hammering, sleeping

This is the final adjective in the list and is often considered part of the noun. It usually references what the item is used for and often ends in an “ing”. Think about a roasting pan or a sleeping bag or a curling iron. This final adjective could also be a noun in an adjective form, such as a coffee mug or a flower vase.

Got it?

Don’t worry about memorizing this adjective order. As mentioned above, most native English speakers know instinctively where to place multiple adjectives, and you'll almost never use all of these adjective types together (unless you're feeling particularly verbose). It’s one of those things that you just pick up naturally as you learn to speak, even for multiple language learners.

But that doesn't mean you can't have fun with it. Give it a try — the next time you’re placing a breakfast order ask for blueberry huge five pancakes and see what kind of reaction you get.

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