Adjectives - Word Order

English Grammar

An adjective is a word that describes something (a noun) or someone (a person).

Adjectives sometimes appear after the verb To Be

Adjectives sometimes appear before a noun.

BUT… Sometimes you want to use more than one adjective to describe something (or someone).

What happens if a hat is both old AND ugly?

Do we say… an ugly old hat OR an old ugly hat?

An ugly old hat is correct because a certain order for adjectives is expected
(Note, you may hear the other version old ugly hat, though it doesn't sound natural)

So what is the correct order of adjectives when we put them before a noun or the thing they describe?

Here is a chart that shows the main word order for adjectives in English:

Adjectives Word Order

IMPORTANT: The order of adjectives before a noun IS NOT FIXED.

This chart is only offered as a guide and is the order that is preferred.

You may see or hear slight variations of the order of adjectives in real life though what appears in the chart above is order that is expected the most.

Let's look at each type of adjective in more detail (with examples)…

Types of Adjectives

Before the adjectives you will normally have the Determiner.

Determiner: The determiner tells us if the noun is singular or plural, definite or indefinite

And then we have the adjectives that refer to…

Opinion: Explains what we think about something. This is usually our opinion, attitude or observations. These adjectives almost always come before all other adjectives.

Size: Tells us how big or small something is.

Shape / Weight / Length: Tells about the shape of something or how long or short it is. It can also refer to the weight of someone or something.

Condition: Tells us the general condition or state of something

Age: Tells us how old someone or something is.

Colour: The colour or approximate colour of something.

Pattern: The pattern or design of something.

Origin: Tells us where something is from.

Material: What is the thing made of or constructed of?

Purpose/Qualifier/Use: What is it for? These adjectives often end in –ing.

If you look at the examples above, you can ask… what are the gloves used for? (gardening) What is the bag used for? (shopping)

And after these we adjectives we have the…

Noun: The person or thing that is being described

Examples of the order of adjectives before a noun

Something to have in mind is that it does not sound natural using three or more adjectives in the same sentence and it is very rare to hear four adjectives together before a noun.

Next activity

Try our basic game about the order of adjectives before nouns.

You might want to read more about Compound Adjectives.

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