How to Correctly Order Adjectives in English

How to Correctly Order Adjectives in English

Adjectives are easy to use, but what about when you have multiple adjectives? If English is not your first language (or even if it is) then figuring out the right way to organize your adjectives can be a hassle. Get the advice you need below.

Adjectives are words used to describe nouns: people, places, and things. Adjectives cover many different kinds of descriptors, from color and size to number and quality.

In English, as opposed to many other languages, adjectives are placed before the noun they are describing. When you have multiple adjectives describing the same noun, then they form a list in front of the noun.

As a general rule, the adjectives which are more closely related to the noun are closer to it. Adjectives describing innate qualities (color, style, etc.) are normally next to the noun and comparative adjectives (number, quality, etc.) usually come before the other adjective(s).

The big, blue marble 

Note that multiple adjectives are separated by a comma. This signifies that the first adjective (“big”) is describing the noun (“marble”), not the other adjective (“blue”). If one adjective is describing another, then a comma is not necessary. Also ensure that the modifying adjective comes before the adjective it is describing, the same rule as with nouns.

The light blue marble 
The light, blue marble.

In the first example, the marble is a light shade of blue; in the second, the marble is not heavy and is colored blue. Modifiers such as very do not need a comma when attached to an adjective, such as very small. The exception is if you use a modifier multiple times, such as very, very small—however this is not very professional and should be avoided in academic writing.

So you have a bunch of adjectives you want to use and you are not sure how to place them. How can you tell what kind of adjective each word is?

If you are unable to tell which adjective is more closely linked to the noun, classify it with the criteria above. Descriptive adjectives highlight key characteristics of the noun. These are usually “uncountable” characteristics, such as type, shape, or color.

The red door
The Baroque painting

These adjectives are not easily “comparable” in that they are not easily measured. You can technically ‘compare’ a red door with a green one, but they are not on the same scale; they are different colors. You could also contrast two paintings based on their style, but a Baroque piece and a Cubist piece cannot be directly “compared.”

Comparative adjectives are the other class, which include items such as quantity, quality, or size. These are usually “countable” characteristics which can be easily measured and compared.

The heavy door
The dark painting

 These adjectives are all scaleable, all comparable based on a common quality. A heavy door versus a light one is a simple comparison, as is a dark painting versus a light one. Common comparative adjectives include indicators of quality such as goodbetter, and best (and the opposite: badworse, and worst) along with other terms like finesloppyodd, or unique.

Comparative adjectives usually come before descriptive ones, as described above.

The old, wooden door
The beautiful, gold chain

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