Adjective order

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

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Order of adjectives 2

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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

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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

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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.

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Hello Leoniloo,

As I said in the earlier answer, this is a point of some discussion and no clear conclusion.  I think an argument can be made for 'forbidden' in this sentence being either a passive form or an adjective, so in this example, as in many others, it is really a choice depending on the individual's preference.  Fortunately, it makes no difference to the meaning.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by caro44 on Wed, 30/10/2013 - 14:16

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I have a doubt about the order of the adjectives in the following sentence: A lovely comfortable small rectangular old white French metallic coffee table. I know this sentence would never be used but I invented it just to understand better the order of adjectives. I’m looking forward to your answer Thank you
Hello caro44, The rules for adjective order are somewhat flexible in that the speaker can choose an alternative order if he or she wishes to emphasise one aspect over the others. As you say, this is an extremely unlikely and unnatural sentence, and so it already sounds clumsy and unnatural which means it is not a very good way to show adjective order (as it will always sound incorrect). That said, I would say the sequence of adjectives in your sentence is not wrong, although I don't think we would ever describe a table as 'comfortable'. Best wishes, Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Helen the Good on Sun, 27/10/2013 - 04:33

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I feel puzzled about General opinion, Specific opinion and Descriptive. Could you please explain to me?
Hello Helen the Good, A general opinion is one about the thing as a whole - good, bad, nice, horrible etc. A specific opinion is one about a certain aspect of the thing - tasty, ugly, noisy etc. A descriptive adjective tells us to how something looks, sounds, smells, tastes or feels, as opposed to an opinion, which tells us what the speaker thinks. I hope that clarifies it for you. Best wishes, Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by hamadbaghdadi on Sat, 19/10/2013 - 19:09

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Dear May i know the difference between east and eastern

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 20/10/2013 - 12:08

In reply to by hamadbaghdadi

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Hello hamadbaghdadi, In general terms, the difference is that 'east' is used in political or official names, while 'eastern' is used as a geographical term. So, we used to talk about 'East Germany' and 'West Germany', and we still talk about 'North Korea' and 'South Korea'. If we say 'southern Korea' then we are not talking about a country but rather a part of the country, just as we might say 'southern England'. However, this is a distinction which has many exceptions and inconsistencies. Thus we can say both 'North Africa' and 'northern Africa' to describe the same thing - a geographical region - but 'southern Africa' (a geographical region) and South Africa (a country) are different things! The part of Ireland which is still part of the United Kingdom (a political entity) is described as 'Northern Ireland', not 'North Ireland'. I'm afraid it is a very confusing area! I hope that clarifies it somewhat for you. Best wishes, Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Hello peter. In your appreciated explanation, you said, "Thus we can say both 'North Africa' and 'northern Africa' to describe the same thing - a geographical region". I'm sorry, I can't understand this point well. Could you explain more? Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

In general, northern (and similar adjectives) describe parts of a larger territory. Northern China, for example, describes the part of China which is in the north of the country.

North is more often used as part of a name: North Korea is a state, for example, not a part of a larger entity.

 

It's important to remember than naming convention grow up over time and are not always consistent. For example, we use the term East Asia (not eastern), but we talk about southern Europe (not south).We talk about northern Europe and southern Europe rather than north and south, for example. North Africa and northern Africa are both used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Decho on Tue, 15/10/2013 - 00:37

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Great! Job guys. I would like to include this into the definition of an adjective. An adjective modifies a noun and a pronoun.

Submitted by MayelaM on Sat, 07/09/2013 - 01:59

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Hello, is there an adjective list for adjectives as "alive vs living" / "affraid vs frightened" , etc available on the site?  How are those pair of adjectives called?  Thanks

Hello MayelaM,

The pairs that you've mentioned are examples of synonyms or partial synonyms.  I'm afraid we don't have lists of these on the site but I'm sure you can find lists like this through an Internet search.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ahlong on Thu, 22/08/2013 - 19:16

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Hi,

I often hear sentences like "The trip was eventful" and "The game will be held outdoor" etc... - they sounded alright to me. So are they technically incorrect if we were to follow the grammar rule above?

Hi ahlong,

The examples you give are a little different.  The first one is an example of a slightly different use of the adjective: following a verb (a predicative adjective) rather than coming before a noun (an attributive adjective).  For example, compare:

It was an eventful trip.

The trip was eventful.

Your second example appears incorrect to me as an adverb ('outdoors') is needed rather than an adjective ('outdoor').  The sentence should be:

'The game will be held outdoors.'

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sreekanthskn on Wed, 31/07/2013 - 08:46

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It is given that adjectives usually follow in the order general opinion >specific opinion>size etc.. An example is also given "horrible big fierce dog". According to the rule, big,which describes size, has to be placed after fierce, which is a specific opinion. Is the usage "horrible big fierce dog" a deviation from the rule?

Hello sreekanthskn,

Thank you for the interesting question.  As you probably know, adjective order in English has tendencies rather than fixed rules - as you can see from the information above, which says 'usually' rather than 'always' in many places.

I've thought about your question a little and it seems to me that while the order you suggest is a good rule of thumb, adjectives which describe character or personality tend to come after adjectives which describe size.  For example:

I've got a big lazy dog at home. [not '...a lazy big dog']

My brother is a small friendly man. [not '...a friendly small man']

However, I'm sure it is possible to find some sentences which are not constructed like this!  As I said, these are not hard and fast rules.

Thanks again for the question.  I'm sure it was of interest to quite a few other learners.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team