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:


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

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


Order of adjectives 2


Adjectives after link verbs

We use some adjectives only after a link verb:


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


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


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


Adjectives in front of nouns

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




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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Submitted by Mila74 on Mon, 03/11/2014 - 22:09

Hello, Could you please tell me which is correct? a beautiful old round table or a beautiful round old table. You mention above that shape goes before age, but the book I'm using to teach at school says that age goes before shape. The book is Grammar for IELTS. You have mentioned that you can change the order, is this the case?

Hello Mila74,

It is indeed the case. As we have said before, adjective order is quite flexible in English and there are often different alternatives, depending on what the speaker wishes to emphasise, on the number of adjectives and, sometimes, on convention (some phrases just tend to be used in a certain way). The rules here are a guide, not a fixed system, and I would say that both alternatives sound perfectly fine to me.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by gayle_0817 on Thu, 30/10/2014 - 12:24

hi, which is correct: 1. Six hardworking small boys OR 2. Six small hardworking boys? 1. Sweet big Swedish chocolate OR 2. Big sweet Swedish chocolate?

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 31/10/2014 - 10:18

In reply to by gayle_0817


Hello gayle_0817,

I would say that either of the first pair sounds fine and that the choice depends on what the speaker chooses to emphasise (just as you can say hardworking boys who are small or small boys who are hardworking).

In the second pair I would generally place 'big' before 'sweet'; however, the example is a little odd as we would not use 'big' with an uncountable noun such as chocolate.

Please remember that the rules for adjective order are not fixed and inviolable. They are common patterns which can often be overridden by a given speaker's choices regarding emphasis or style, or by certain idiomatic conventions of use in certain phrases. Treat the rules as a guide rather than an inflexible system.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by archijais on Mon, 13/10/2014 - 20:18

hi, please make me understand how to differentiate between general and specific opinion?because i was having lots of difficulties to do task please help me..

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 16/10/2014 - 08:59

In reply to by archijais


Hi archijais,

Take a look at the examples on the page:

Nice tasty soup.
A nasty uncomfortable armchair
A lovely intelligent animal

The three general opinions (nice, nasty and lovely) all give an opinion which could be caused by any number of characteristics. For example, the soup could be nice because it is sweet, spicy, hot, colourful, tasty, aromatic, healthy etc. However, the specific opinions are more concrete; they describe a particular characteristic, not a general opinion.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bethlimshiyu on Fri, 05/09/2014 - 10:54

Hello, I don't quite understand why "specific opinion" is placed before "size" since you say "horrible big fierce" and not the other way around. Is this an exception, and are there any other exceptions? Thanks.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 06/09/2014 - 13:44

In reply to by bethlimshiyu


Hello bethlimshiyu,

The rules given for adjective order are not really rules but are rather tendencies  - examples of common or typical use - which are quite flexible. They are intended as a guide to natural use rather than a fixed system.

Certain phrases may not follow the sequence, and speakers may change the order because they wish to emphasise certain elemments or because they feel a certain order sounds better for some reason. The only way to get used to this is by being exposed to many examples of natural English and, fortunately, you can find plenty of those on LearnEnglish.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cwbrasil on Thu, 31/07/2014 - 03:04

Hello, I´m having trouble on task 03. As for example, why does the sentence "I don't like hospitals. They 're full of ill people." is incorrect? Thanks, Christopher

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 31/07/2014 - 07:15

In reply to by cwbrasil


Hi cwbrasil,

ill and sick mean essentially the same thing, but ill has a more limited use. You can say:

My sister is ill. (or) My sister is sick.

But we don't normally use ill before a noun - ill is used only after a link verb such as the verb be (as in the sentence above). Therefore, the first sentence below is not correct, but the second is:

She's taking care of her ill sister. --> She's taking care of her sick sister.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kush1 on Thu, 24/07/2014 - 14:46

is there any problem for my user because i did n,t get any answer all my comments

Hi kush1,

There's nothing wrong with your account, but please know that responding to user comments is just one of part of our job. We are a small team with a lot of other work as well - these days, for example, we are publishing one new episode of Word on the Street every week - and have dozens of comments to respond to every day.

When you ask a lot of questions, sometimes it takes us longer to reply because we also have many others' comments to respond to. In addition, our primary interest is in helping users make the best use of the site, so questions that are directly related to the pages get faster answers. Finally, please remember that we do all of this for free!

We'll get to answering your other questions when we can.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Zeeman on Thu, 24/07/2014 - 10:58

Is it right to say: "he's the fastest of the two"

Hello Zeeman,

It's possible to say this, but generally when you are speaking of two people, the comparative form ('faster') is better. When it's three or more, then the superlative ('fastest') is the appropriate form.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by abbasijawi1 on Fri, 20/06/2014 - 06:26

Sir,is this sentence correct? The district he lives is in east.

Hello abbasijawi1,

It is not quite correct.  The correct form would be:

The district he lives in is in the east.

We could also add 'of the city' / 'of the country' and so on at the end if we wanted to be more specific.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by omaxios on Sat, 14/06/2014 - 17:36

I guess it's grammatically correct if we say The problems with the new machinery were countless, right ?

Submitted by Apollobeach25 on Thu, 12/06/2014 - 03:10

Could you help me with the order of this adjectives: "Cotton blue socks" Is this correct_ Thank you! Marlene

Hello Apollobeach25,

No, that is not standard because cotton is a material (position 8) and blue is a colour (position 6): blue cotton socks.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by meriem boubred on Wed, 28/05/2014 - 17:59

Our teacher also provided us with other types of adjectives which are : origin , type and other qualities .. and i still confused .. my question is how i will put them in order

Hi meriem,

There are different ways to name the different kinds of adjectives. It sounds to me like origin is the same as nationality and type is the same as material. Does that make sense?

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SHAHBAZ BALOCH on Thu, 22/05/2014 - 17:04

I am confused between ed Adjective and second form of a verb .how can we distinguish them in sentence?


It is not easy to do this, I am afraid, as often the adjective form and the second form (and the third form) are identical.  In this case, the only way is to use the context to help you: is the word describing a noun or is it functioning as a verb with a subject? Can you see auxiliary verbs such as 'has' or 'had'?

I hope that helps you.  It is a tricky problem.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Anak on Mon, 19/05/2014 - 18:15

Hi :) I read in some books order of adjectives where there is material in front of nationality? Is it correct or must be first nationality and after material ? Because I see than you written first nationality?! Thank you!

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 20/05/2014 - 07:07

In reply to by Anak


Hello Anak,

In all of the cases that I can think of, adjectives indicating origin come before adjectives indicating material. For example: American cotton pants, Italian leather boots.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nguyên Cát on Sat, 10/05/2014 - 17:45

Thank BC for a useful lesson.

Submitted by lathavjn on Wed, 30/04/2014 - 11:03

getting little bit confusion. Is it necessary to keep the order of adjectives always

Hello lathavjn,

It is a very nuanced area of English: sometimes it is possible to move the adjectives around and change their order, but at other times the order is fixed and changes make the sentence sound very unnatural.  The order given on this page is a guide and a good starting point, but only through exposure to lots of examples of real English will you develop a feel for how far you can 'break' these rules and change the order in particular contexts.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Shabnam Pouyan on Wed, 19/03/2014 - 21:10

that was a great help thanks

Submitted by Shabnam Pouyan on Tue, 11/03/2014 - 15:19

Hello sir Cant we put the adjective of shape nearer to the noun than the adjective of age? I mean like this 3 4 5 6 7 8 Size age shape Colour Nationality Material

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 12/03/2014 - 09:47

In reply to by Shabnam Pouyan


Hello Shabnam Pouyan,

Yes, you can do that.  As the information says, the order given here is the usual order, but it is quite flexible in some areas and the speaker can choose to move some of the words around for effect or emphasis, or just because of personal preference.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AussieAmanda on Wed, 26/02/2014 - 05:05

I need to translate a title…well, I am getting confuse about the order of names… 1. THE INHIBITORY POWER DETERMINATION OF Mentha ESSENTIAL OIL or 2. DETERMINATION OF THE INHIBITORY POWER OF Mentha ESSENTIAL OIL or another way!? ? Thanks in advance!

Hi AussieAmanda,

I'm afraid it's difficult for me to say which translation is better, as I don't understand either one all that well. But if I had to choose between the two that you've suggested, I'd choose the second one because it sounds a bit more natural, though what "determination" means isnt' clear. In general, more than a couple of nouns one right after the other can be a bit confusing and/or sound unnatural.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by maluram on Wed, 29/01/2014 - 05:34


Hello Sir,

Why are the words like supposed, expected etc. are called adjective.

E.g. He is supposed to go to the store.

Hi maluram,

supposed and expected can be used in different ways, so you have to look at them carefully. Sometimes they are past participles acting as adjectives, and that is why they are considered adjectives in such contexts.

I'd recommend you think of be supposed to as a unit in itself which is used to talk about what people have to do or are expected to do. In the sentence you mention, it sounds like there was a plan that the subject go to the store.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Adeeb Natsheh on Mon, 27/01/2014 - 21:02


Hello Guys,

I want to ask you about the tasks under the explanations, because its not available  from my account.

Thanks in advance.

Hi Adeeb Natsheh,

Are you by chance using an iOS device such as an iPhone or iPad? These tasks were made using Flash, which is not displayed on most iOS devices. We are working to fix this, but for the moment you may have to use a computer or different device to do the exercises.

If you're not using an iOS-based device, please let me know what kind of device and browser you're using, and hopefully I can help you solve this problem.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ritesh46 on Sun, 29/12/2013 - 22:45


hello sir

In my facebook account '' British council'' provide a link ''7 help yourself english spelling reference ''.but i miss it so i request you to provide it again on your reply or again published in facebook

Hello yogesh mani tripathi,

I've tried to find the link for you but I'm afraid I haven't had any luck.  You should be able to find it yourself on the British Council timeline with a little patience, or you could alternatively send a request via Facebook to the British Council page - the Facebook pages are administered separately from these.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ritesh46 on Sat, 28/12/2013 - 22:04


sir,explain this sentence ''feeling tired and depressed ,he went to bed''.

Hi yogesh,

I suppose that what you might be asking about is the participle phrase feeling tired and depressed at the beginning of the sentence. This phrase tells us more about he, the subject of the sentence, and is another way of saying something like "Since he was feeling tired and depressed, he went to bed."

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ritesh46 on Thu, 26/12/2013 - 21:31


sir.i do not properly understand ''adjectives ;-ed & -ing '' exercise .i do not understand,which time i use -ed adjectives & which time i use -ing adjectives.

Submitted by supamas on Fri, 13/12/2013 - 10:12



I have a confusion about the order of adjective. In my school book, it uses the order of opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material. The difference is between shape and age. Which one is correct?

Your promptly reply is appreciated.

Thank you

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 15/12/2013 - 12:06

In reply to by supamas


Hello supamas,

Although there are rules, and changing them can produce unnatural-sounding sentences, the order of adjectives is not completely fixed in English, and the speaker has some choice over the exact sequence.  Particularly when we are focusing on the adjectives in the middle of the sequence, there is some flexibility.  If you could post the particular sentence you are dealing with then we can give an opinion on that, but it's difficult to comment in more general terms.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vidyaarthi on Thu, 07/11/2013 - 15:25

In sentences like 'The sun is shining.' and 'The river is flowing.' are shining and flowing adjectives? or verbs?

Hello Vidyaarthi,

The -ing form can be found in verb tenses (continuous forms) and can be used as adjectives, and it can be quite hard to say when it is one and when it is the other - although, fortunately, for users of English the distinction is really academic and a part of linguistics (the study of language) rather than English language learning (learning to understand and produce the language).

'Shining' is a good example of this.  It can be both a part of a verb form, as in your sentence, or an adjective ('You shouldn't look at the shining sun').  In your examples, the -ing forms are part of present continuous verb forms.  One helpful way to test this is to see if the form can be substituted with another tense and still make sense.  For example, we can say:

The sun is shining.

The sun shone.

The sun had been shining.

The sun will shine.

When an -ing form is being used as an adjective this is usually not possible.  For example, take the sentence 'The meal was completely satisfying for all of us'.  Here, 'satisfying' is an adjective and we cannot substitute different tenses in its place:

'The meal completely satisfied for all of us' - this is incorrect; the sentence would need to be 'The meal completely satisfied all of us' [without 'for'].

As these examples show, to decide if the -ing form is actually a verb form or an adjective the context is usually key, and without that context it can be ambiguous.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter

Hello and Thank you for your great exercises and full explanations (Esp. on this question). Is this the case with past participle adjectives as well? In this sentence, for example:

Harram is an act that is strictly forbidden in Islam.

Is the word "forbidden" a part of the verb or an adjective as the verb complement? (further explanations: "Harram" is adjective and a noun in Islamic terminology)

Thank you again
The best