Order of adjectives



As a native speaker, I never think about the order of adjectives used to modify a particular noun. As a teacher, I need to show my students how the adjectives line up they way they do in English. But.I can't explain this.



Yes, it's true that native speakers of English don't say "a red new car" or "some French expensive perfume." English, like other languages, has a sequence for the order of adjectives; it's built into our grammar language genes. Here it is:






(1) Determiner:


a, an, the, some, his, those


(2) Sequence: words


first, second, hundredth, next, last


(3) Quantifiers:


one, two, many, much, few, little, some


(4) Impression:


beautiful, awful, amazing, stupid


(5) Physical Description:


big, little, small, huge




old, young, middle-aged, twenty-year-old




oblong, round, tall, rotund




red, black, yellow, pumpkin, avocado


(6) Origin:


French, Italian, Japanese, pre-Colombian


(7) Material:


gold, silver, silk, copper, steel, plastic


(8) Qualifier:


(Noun used as adjective): book, clothes, family, tennis






(9) The noun itself:


book, clothes, family, box, cars, hair, eyes, game

Choosing one representative word from several of these categories, you could come up with a sentence like this:

Her first two generous, rich, old, fat American husbands left her with a lot of money; then she married a brilliant, young, handsome, poor, Canadian computer programmer and lived happily ever after.

Of course, it's not likely that such a sentence would actually be uttered. It becomes awkward to squeeze more than two or three adjectives into one phrase, so people use alternate ways to describe the nouns. The information in that contrived sentence above could be better stated in this way:

Her first two husbands were rich, old, fat and generous; they left her with a lot of money, and then she married a brilliant young Canadian computer programmer who was handsome but poor, and.

The adjectives of physical description may take a slightly different order-the order of these adjectives at (d) (adjectives describing impression) and (e) (adjectives used in physical description) are not as fixed as those at the beginning and at the end of the list.

Return to the Key Word Index