Adjective order

Learn about the word order when you have more than one adjective and do the exercises to practise using it.

Level: intermediate

Two adjectives

We often have two adjectives in front of a noun:

a handsome young man
a big black car
that horrible big dog

Some adjectives give a general opinion. We can use these adjectives to describe almost any noun:

good
bad
lovely
strange
nice
beautiful
brilliant
excellent
awful
important
wonderful
nasty

He's a good/wonderful/brilliant/bad/dreadful teacher.

That's a good/wonderful/brilliant/bad/dreadful book.

Some adjectives give a specific opinion. We only use these adjectives to describe particular kinds of noun, for example:

Food Furniture, buildings People, animals
delicious
tasty
comfortable
uncomfortable
clever
intelligent
friendly

We usually put a general opinion in front of a specific opinion:

nice tasty soup
a nasty uncomfortable armchair

a lovely intelligent animal

We usually put an opinion adjective in front of a descriptive adjective:

a nice red dress
a silly old man
those horrible yellow curtains

Order of adjectives 1

Grouping_MTQwNzg=

Order of adjectives 2

ReorderingHorizontal_MTQwNzk=

Adjectives after link verbs

We use some adjectives only after a link verb:

afraid
alive
alone
asleep
content
glad
ill
ready
sorry
sure
unable
well

Some of the commonest -ed adjectives are normally used only after a link verb:

annoyed
bored
finished
pleased
thrilled

We say:

Our teacher was ill.
My uncle was very glad when he heard the news.
The policeman seemed to be very annoyed.

but we do not say:

We had an ill teacher.
When he heard the news he was
a very glad uncle.
He seemed to be a very annoyed policeman.

Order of adjectives 3

MultipleChoice_MTQwODE=

Level: advanced

Three or more adjectives

Sometimes we have three adjectives in front of a noun, but this is unusual:

a nice handsome young man     
a big black American car     
that horrible big fierce dog

It is very unusual to have more than three adjectives.

Adjectives usually come in this order:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
General opinion Specific opinion Size Shape Age Colour Nationality Material
Order of adjectives 4­

ReorderingHorizontal_MTQwODI=

Adjectives in front of nouns

A few adjectives are used only in front of a noun:

north
south
east
west

northern
southern
eastern
western
countless
occasional
lone
mere
indoor
outdoor


 

We say:

He lives in the eastern district.
There were countless problems with the new machinery.

but we do not say:

The district he lives in is eastern.
The problems with the new machinery were countless.

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.

Submitted by NavamH on Thu, 04/08/2022 - 16:43

Permalink

"This is a car with a high head-turning quotient."

Sir, in relation to the above sentence, i assumed the following:

quotient = noun
head-turning = (n + ing compound) adjective
high = adjective

Sir, if 'high' is an adjective, does it modify 'head-turning' or 'quotient'
OR
can it be an 'adverb' modifying the compound adjective

This is a car (SVC)
with a high head-turning quotient = Adverbial?

Thank you in advance

Hello NavamH,

'high' modifies 'quotient'; 'quotient' is also modified by 'head-turning'. The phrase 'with a high head-turning quotient' is adjectival because it tells us more about the car.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by O on Mon, 04/07/2022 - 09:48

Permalink

Hello,

Does the adjective order also apply when the adjectives comes after the verb to-be?
For example, I think according to the article, I can say: 'She is a beautiful young woman.'
But can I also say: 'She is beautiful and young.' ? This sounds a bit weird to me. 'She is young and beautiful' sounds more natural. Am I missing something?

I hope I have not misunderstood any of the material.

Thank you!

Hello O,

The order described above applies to adjectives before a noun, not when the adjectives come after a link verb.

As you say, 'young and beautiful' is probably more common than 'beautiful and young', but it really depends on the situation and the speaker's intentions.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mark Allum on Wed, 29/06/2022 - 09:15

Permalink

I think you have the general adjective order wrong, Age and Shape are transposed in normal spoken English compared to your list.
"an old square table" just sounds right,
"a square old table" is certainly grating to the ears.

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your comment. I agree that 'an old square table' sounds better than 'a square old table', which goes to show that there's some flexibility in the middle of the range and is why the explanation above indicates it's the usual order. At least a couple of other sources (Cambridge Dictionary and Thesaurus.com) have an order similar to the one Dave Willis (the author of this page) describes, so it seems to be a matter of some debate.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Basheer Ahmed on Tue, 15/03/2022 - 14:15

Permalink

In an example above it is written as: "that horrible big fierce dog". Wouldn't it be like "that horrible fierce big dog" because the adjective "fierce" looks like a Specific Opinion?

Hello Basheer Ahmed,

The order in the table is a general rule, but the reality is that adjective order is quite flexible. General opinion is always first but the rest are more fluid. Position of adjectives relative to the noun they modify is along a continuum: what the speaker considers intrinsic to the item goes closer to the noun, and what is subjective goes further from the noun.

There's also the issue of collocation – we tend to put collocating adjectives closer.

In this case, personally, I'd avoid saying 'that horrible big fierce dog' and would use two adjectives instead, but if I had to use three, I'd use them in the order in the example on this page.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sat, 17/07/2021 - 08:21

Permalink
Hello. Could you please help me? Which form is correct? Why? 1- a long wide street. 2- a long, wide street. 3- a long and wide street. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

There's a useful and detailed explanation of how to punctuate two adjectives on this Grammar Girl page; notice that the explanation is spread across two pages.

In many situations, you could probably choose any one of these three forms and it would be OK.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Mon, 12/07/2021 - 12:07

Permalink
Hello. I have read that the two following sentences don't mean the same. Also, in the dictionary, the word "bloody" has two definitions. However, I can't understand the difference. 1- It was a bloody nightmare. 2- It was a nightmare that was bloody. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The second sentence is a literal description: the nightmare contained a lot of blood and, presumably, violence.

The first sentence could mean the same thing. It could also be 'bloody' used as a mild swear word to add emphasis. In this case it would have the same meaning as 'a complete nightmare' or 'a total nightmare'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Mon, 12/07/2021 - 11:59

Permalink
Hello. I have been reading in different references about the order of adjectives and I have found some differences. I would like to help me with the following classes. Are these in the correct order? Are two or some of them one thing? Also, could you give an adjective as an example for every class? I need you help! 1- numbers 2- Opinion 3- Size 4- other qualities 5- shape 6- Age 7- Colour 8- Origin=Nationality 9- Material 10- Type 11- Purpose=use Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Iman,

The order of adjectives is not completely fixed, so while general guidance can be given I don't think a list as detailed as this is appropriate. As we say on the page, opinion usually precedes description and general opinions precede specific opinions.

I think this is the most detail I would go into:

opinion - size - age/shape - colour - origin - material - purpose

Age and shape are not really fixed. There is quite a lot of variability in the sequence of other physical descriptors too, but the order above is the most common, I would say.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Sun, 25/04/2021 - 19:18

Permalink
Hi fantastic team, I want to know sth. Can we say all adjectives with -ing have an active and adjectives with -ed have a passive meaning? If it isn't, could you give me an example? Thank you and best wishes!

Hi Nevi,

I think that's accurate and is also true of participle phrases and clauses. I cant think of any exceptions.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Sun, 07/03/2021 - 10:03

Permalink
Hi team!, I want to know one more thing about adjectival prepositional phrases. Can we say they have the same meaning? "a restaurant on the tenth street" = 'a restaurant is on the tenth street' If we can, could you please explain why?and which one I should use and when? Thanks a lot!
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 08/03/2021 - 07:41

In reply to by Nevı

Permalink

Hi Nevı,

This isn't a question about prepositional phrases but rather about the grammar of the sentence. Every sentence requires a verb, so the first sentence is not complete. It may be grammatically fine, but that would depend on the rest of the sentence. The second example is a complete sentence, but whether or not it is correct will depend up the context in which it is used.

 

If you're talking about US addresses and cities then you would say 'on tenth street' (without 'the').

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sorry teacher, I couldn't write well. So, If I wrote these two sentences in UK. 1)I went to a restaurant on the tenth street. 2)I went to a restaurant which is on the tenth street. Would they have the same meaning? And which one should I use? Thanks a lot!

Hello again Nevı,

In the UK streets have names rather than numbers. This is also true in the US outside of certain major cities with grid-plan layours. As I said, you would not use 'the' before them. Thus the sentences would be as follows:

  • I went to a restaurant on tenth (street).
  • I went to a restaurant which is on tenth (street).

The difference is minimal and you can interchange the sentences. I think you might be more likely to use the second if the conversation is about the street and you want to say that you know the area, for example.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nagie23 on Sun, 07/03/2021 - 08:38

Permalink
Hello, I would like to ask the following. What is the difference in meaning between smart and clever? Who/what is smart? Who is clever? Thank you in advance
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 08/03/2021 - 07:38

In reply to by Nagie23

Permalink

Hello Nagie23,

This is really too general a question to answer in the comments section. You can find definitions and examples in any good online dictionary. For example:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/smart

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/clever

 

If you have a particular example or context you'd like to ask about then we'll be happy to comment, of course.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sopheakharry on Sun, 28/02/2021 - 06:21

Permalink
I just went to Google, and searched for 'descriptive adjectives' and then read about them in a few websites and found out that I felt confused between the 'descriptive adjectives' and 'opinion adjectives'.

Hello Sopheakharry,

A descriptive adjective generally describes characteristics of a noun that are fairly objective. For example, a book that measures 90cm by 120cm and weighs 4kg and is red in colour can generally be called 'a large red book'. Some people might say it's a slightly different colour or that it isn't really that big, but most people would agree with this.

An opinion adjective describes a characteristic that more people would disagree about.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Fernando 73 on Fri, 26/02/2021 - 16:04

Permalink
Why do we say a big, juicy steak and not a juicy, big stake? Thanks

Hello Fernando 73,

When we talk about food we put flavour after size but before colour:

a big, juicy steak

a huge, cheesy burger

a spicy, yellow sauce

 

Adjective order is really a question of convention rather than fixed rules. You'll find a lot of it is context dependent, I'm afraid. On this page we give the best general guidance we can, but we know there are a lot of cases where the order is different.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ant0nfreeman on Wed, 03/02/2021 - 09:05

Permalink
Hi! That's very helpful thanks!!! But I have one question: there are some adjectives which match with none of this categories. For example "horizontal". Where should I put them?
Profile picture for user Kirk

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 25/01/2021 - 12:41

In reply to by Mr Ahmed Adel

Permalink

Hello Mr Ahmed Adel,

Yes, that is a grammatically correct sentence. 'newly' is an adverb and 'graduated' is an adjective. Many adjectives are essentially past (or present) participles that get used as adjectives, but not all past participles can be used as adjectives.

Your argument about using the transitive verb 'graduate' in the passive voice is sound, but I don't think you'd ever see that in writing or hear it in speaking.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Purple_Pixie on Thu, 07/01/2021 - 02:01

Permalink
As a native English speaker I have to say almost all or those crossed out sentences are perfectly valid; they might convey a different tone or register but most are definitely constructions I would employ.

Hello Purple_Pixie,

I think it is someting of a sliding scale from odd-sounding to highly unnatural, so I take your point. However, I think it's useful to clarify for learners which forms sound natural and which do not.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Renita on Wed, 06/01/2021 - 14:13

Permalink
Dear teacher, I'd like to ask you. Which one is correct? A terrifying big black dog, or A big terrifying black dog. Thanks in advance.

Hello Renita,

The first version (...terrifying big...) is correct. We put opinion before size.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jack on Sat, 19/12/2020 - 16:03

Permalink
Hello teacher, in this lesson, i see the list (1) : Opinion-Size-Shape-Age-... But in orther source, i see them use the list (2) : Opinion - Size - Age - Shape-... (1) is correct and (2) is wrong or we can use both of them. Thank you :D !

Hello Jack,

To be honest, the order of adjectives is only partially fixed. Opinion is always first and origin and material come last. Between those, there is some flexibility. It's often a question of convention and how something sounds rather than fixed rules.

For example, I think both of these sentences sound fine:

I have a beautiful big old round Spanish leather sofa.

I have a beautiful big round old Spanish leather sofa.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sopheakharry on Sun, 28/02/2021 - 04:00

In reply to by Peter M.

Permalink
Hi, The LearnEnglish Team I don't think I understand the descriptive adjectives. I can't differentiate between descriptive and opinion adjectives. Please kindly help me out with this. Regards,
Hi, Jack. I have the same problem as you. I've been using the order of your List 1 for years.

Submitted by Jack on Thu, 17/12/2020 - 10:51

Permalink
Hello teacher, I would like to ask: When search dictionary, leather, cotton is noun. So in " a leather jacket " . Leather is adjective or noun ?

Hi Jack,

Yes, that's right! Cottonleather and many other materials are nouns. But they function like adjectives in phrases like a leather jacket or a cotton shirt.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by xeesid on Tue, 24/11/2020 - 05:08

Permalink
Sir, Do these sentences sound OK? Being awake, I saw an angel. I saw an angel in wakefulness. Is the sentence with Adj 'awake' better than the one with the noun 'wakefulness'? Please note that I mean to say: I wasn't dreaming. I was awake, and I saw that angel.
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 24/11/2020 - 08:08

In reply to by xeesid

Permalink

Hello xeesid,

I think there are problems with both sentences. The first sentence suggests that you saw the angel because you were awake, and I don't think you aim to show this kind of causal connection. The second sentence does not sound natural to me.

 

I think the best option would be a simpler construction, but I have to emphasise that we are dealing with issues of style here and so it is a subjective choice, dependent on how the author wishes to sound and what the conventions of the genre (a novel, a speech, a poem, a song etc) are. However, I would suggest something like this:

Awake, I saw an angel.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Joz Frank on Fri, 20/11/2020 - 14:50

Permalink
I will have to disagree with the order of 6 and 7, Color and origin respectively. I believe the right order to be origin first, and color second. e.g. Cynthia loves Chilean red wine. right Cynthia loves red Chilean wine. wrong A quick google search will prove my point. I'd like to know whether there are exceptions to the adjective order provided or there's a mistake.

Hi Joz Frank,

Yes, your example is correct! But I think red wine is a bit different because 'red' is part of the noun. For example, the Cambridge Dictionary lists 'red wine' as a noun. So, the two words wouldn't be separated by other adjectives. A similar example is 'the White House' - if there was another White House in (for example) Canada, it would be the Canadian White House (not the White Canadian House), because 'white' is part of the noun.

But when the adjective is not part of the noun, colour does come before origin (see also the Cambridge Dictionary's explanation). For example, a Ferrari is a red Italian sports car.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Elen Nikol on Wed, 28/10/2020 - 19:52

Permalink
Hi, teachers. I would like to aks you about the following sentence: ``My sister's got two young children.`` ( it is part of the adjectives exercise) Why ``sister`s`` is followed with an apostrophe and shows possessive? Thank you

Hello Elen Nikol,

Besides indicating possession, an 's can be a contracted form of 'is' and 'has'.

In this case, 'my sister's got' is a contracted form of 'my sister has got'. The verb 'has got' indicates possession, but there is no possessive apostrophe in this case.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sourav Bhatia on Sun, 18/10/2020 - 16:04

Permalink
can someone explain me use of expected in following sentence and what if i replace expected with expect. In my opinion what can be expected is a change of the teachers’ role, but not their disappearance from the classroom.

Hello Sourav Bhatia,

'be expected' is a passive form here. If you simply changed 'expected' to 'expect', the sentence would not be correct, but if you said 'what we can expect', that would correct.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team