Word Order Rules: Adjectives

We don’t account for adjectives in the article Adverbials (except with the linking verb, where a subject compliment functions as an adjective) because they always accompany nouns and tend not to move around sentences much.

Order of adjectives in a string of adjectives is governed by an order that feels intuitive for native English speakers, but is difficult to unpack for speakers not raised in the language.

Example: A string of adjectives usually appears in the following order

Determiner (e.g. a, the, his, Jimmy’s, the house’s, four, ninety, few, several)

General opinion—could be used for almost any noun (e.g. great, poor, excellent)

Specific opinion—use limited to a narrower range (e.g. sensual, frustrating, challenging)

Description (e.g. blue, tall, rough, old, Dutch)

Additionally, descriptive adjectives are usually given in the following order: size, shape, age, colour, nationality, and material.

Thus, usually we would say “one frustrating, short, fat, four-year-old, spotted hound” and not “one short, four-year-old, frustrating, fat, spotted hound.” If you can’t think of a good reason to deviate from this ordering, don’t deviate.

The rule for ordering adjectives is not set, however; use these as a guide, but also be aware that writers frequently break these rules when it seems to them the wisest decision.

Example: Adjectives tend to appear before nouns

The tall four-year-old hound…

Example: Some adjectives also follow linking verbs

The hound was beautiful

Example: Adjectives usually follow pronouns

They made him happy

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Shane Bryson

Shane finished his master's degree in English literature in 2013 and has been working as a writing tutor and editor since 2009. He began proofreading and editing essays with Scribbr in early summer, 2014.

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