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Order of Adjectives

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It is very common to use more than one adjective before a noun in a sentence. Remember, when we use more than one adjective before a noun, we need to put them in right order, according to their type.

1. The overall rule is that opinion adjectives come before fact adjectives. If an adjective can be proven, it is a fact adjective, and comes later. If an adjective is based on someone's own perception, it is an opinion adjective, and comes first.

For example:

  • an ugly blue sweater not a blue ugly sweater - you can prove that the sweater is blue, but some people might think it is ugly and some might think it is pretty
  • an exciting mystery novel not a mystery exciting novel - the novel is clearly about a mystery, but whether it is exciting or not depends on the reader's opinion

2. Fact adjectives typically follow this order: size, shape, age, color, origin, material, purpose

For example:

  • the big, old, wooden kitchen table
    big tells the size, old tells the origin, wooden tells the material, and kitchen tells the purpose

  • a small, red, rubber ball
    small tells the size, red tells the color, and rubber tells the material

3. There are some words you may not even realize are adjectives. These are called determiners, and they come first in the sentence. This includes:

  • Articles (a, an, the)
  • Possessives (my, your, etc.)
  • Demonstratives (this, that)
  • Quantifiers (many, few, some, any)
  • Numbers (one, two)

To summarize:

Article Opinion Size Shape Age Color Origin Material Purpose/Qualifier Noun
a lovely     old red       post
an       old   Italian   race car
a charming small         silver   ring

A purpose or qualifier is often considered part of the noun. When you put a purpose or qualifier with a noun, the result is similar to a compound word.

race car

Note: These rules aren't set in stone. This is just how people typically use them. Sometimes people will use a different order for emphasis.

Commas with Adjectives

If you have a series of adjectives in a row, sometimes you need commas between then, and sometimes you don't. How do you know the difference?

You need to determine if they are coordinate adjectives or non coordinate adjectives.

Coordinate Adjectives

  • You must put commas between coordinate adjectives.
  • An easy way to figure out if you are using coordinate adjectives is by trying to rewrite them in a different order, or with and between them.

For example:

This could be rewritten as:

Or as:

  • The big, heavy, dusty book hadn't been opened in years.
  • The dusty, big, heavy book hadn't been opened in years.
  • The big and heavy and dusty book hadn't been opened in years.

Non Coordinate Adjectives

  • You don't need commas between non coordinate adjectives.
  • Non coordinate adjectives CANNOT be re-written in a different order, or with and between them.

For example:

This could NOT be rewritten as:

Or as:

  • The seven delicious chocolate candies were very tempting.
  • The chocolate delicious seven candies were very tempting. [incorrect]
  • The seven and delicious and chocolate candies were very tempting. [incorrect]
Summary
  • When more than one adjective is used, the adjectives usually go in a certain order. This table shows that order.
  • Article Opinion Size Shape Age Color Origin Material Purpose/Qualifier Noun
    a lovely     old red       post
    an       old   Italian   race car
    a charming small         silver   ring
  • You must put commas between coordinate adjectives. You can identify coordinate adjectives by trying to rewrite them in a different order, or with and between them.
  • You don't need commas between non coordinate adjectives. Non Coordinate adjectives CANNOT be re-written in a different order, or with and between them.

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