A Complete Guide to Order of Adjectives: Examples & Tips

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Have you ever wondered why we say “big red ball” instead of “big red ball”? English has a cool way of arranging adjectives or describing words that makes our sentences sound right. Let’s break it down into simple steps so you can become a pro at describing anything in English!

The order of adjectives in English grammar is prescribed as quantity, opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, and purpose. Adhering to this sequence ensures clarity and precision in descriptions, enhancing the coherence of communication.

Delve deeper into our article for an extensive exploration of each category within the order of adjectives, enriched with examples illuminating their practical application in enhancing linguistic expression.

What Are Adjectives?

Adjectives are like the colors of language. They help paint a clearer picture in our minds about the nouns they describe. If someone says, “I have a cat,” you might imagine any cat. But if they say, “I have a fluffy, white cat,” you can picture a specific cat. Adjectives make our conversations and stories more vivid and interesting.

There are different types of adjectives, each serving a unique purpose. Some adjectives tell us about qualities or characteristics, like “soft” or “loud.” Others might tell us about size, like “tiny” or “huge.” There are also adjectives for colors, shapes, and ages, like “green,” “square,” and “old.” This variety allows us to describe nouns in many different ways.

Adjectives can also compare things. For example, if you have two cookies, and one is bigger, you might use the adjective “bigger” to describe it. If you have the biggest cookie of all, you might say it’s the “biggest” cookie. These are called comparative and superlative adjectives, and they help us understand not just what things are like but how they stack up against others.

The placement of adjectives is usually before the noun they describe, but sometimes they can come after the noun, especially when a verb like “to be” is involved. For instance, “The cat is fluffy” still describes the cat using “fluffy” as the adjective, but it comes after the verb “is” and the noun “cat.”

Adjectives can do more than describe. They can also tell us about quantity or how many of something we have. Words like “some,” “few,” or “many” are adjectives because they give us information about the amount. This helps in situations where the exact number isn’t known or isn’t important, making our descriptions both flexible and informative.

The Secret Order of Adjectives

Differences between Adjectives and Adverbs

When we use more than one adjective, we have to put them in a certain order. It’s like a secret code that makes your English sound natural.

For example, if you have a big, fluffy, white dog from Japan, you’d say “a big fluffy white Japanese dog.” It’s like following a recipe; you add each ingredient in the right order to make the dish (or sentence) come out perfectly.

This secret code helps us understand each other better by arranging the information in a way that our brains like to hear. So next time you describe something, remember the following order and your English will sound awesome!

  1. Quantity (how many)
  2. Opinion (what you think about it)
  3. Size (how big or small)
  4. Age (how old)
  5. Shape (what shape it is)
  6. Color (what color it is)
  7. Origin (where it comes from)
  8. Material (what it is made of)
  9. Purpose (what it’s used for)

Let’s go through each category with examples to make it super clear.

1. Quantity ((How many or how much)

When we start describing something, we often begin with “how many” or “how much” there is. This is called the quantity. It’s like setting the stage before telling a story. Mentioning quantity first helps everyone get a clear picture from the start.

Talking about quantity matters because it gives us a basic idea of what to expect. It’s like if someone says they saw a bunch of puppies, knowing whether there were 3 or 30 changes how we imagine the scene. It’s the starting point that helps make everything else we say clearer.

For example:

  • Two chairs – tells us exactly how many chairs there are.
  • A bunch of grapes – gives an idea of how many grapes there are, but not the exact number.
  • Hundreds of stars – paints a picture of a starry sky without counting each one.

Quantity usually comes first in our descriptions. It sets the foundation for more details like color, shape, or size.

For instance:

  • Four large boxes – It lets us know the number and then the size.
  • Several old trees – This indicates there are more than a couple, and they’re not young.

This order makes our descriptions easy to follow and understand. Starting with quantity helps paint a clearer picture for whoever’s listening or reading.

2. Opinion (what you think about it)

After we’ve talked about how many of something we have, the next step is to share what we think about it. This is where we use adjectives based on our opinion, like “gorgeous,” “scary,” or “boring.” Sharing your opinion adds color and life to your description, making it more interesting.

Why does sharing an opinion matter? Because it shows your personal reaction to something. Whether you find a dress beautiful or a book fascinating, your opinion gives a unique perspective. It helps others understand what something is and how it makes you feel.

For instance:

  • A gorgeous dress – tells us you find the dress not just nice, but stunning.
  • An interesting book – Here, “interesting” suggests the book keeps you engaged and thinking.

In descriptions, opinions usually come after quantity but before other details like size, color, or material.

For example:

  • Three beautiful paintings – shows how many there are and then gives your opinion on their beauty.
  • Several boring lectures – tells us there are more than a few lectures and you didn’t find them engaging.

This order helps us understand not just the basics of what you’re describing, but also how you personally connect with it, making your description richer and more engaging.

3. Size (how big or small)

After we’ve covered how many of something there are and what we think about it, the next detail to add is size. This tells us whether something is big, small, or gigantic. Including the size makes our description more vivid and helps others picture what we’re talking about more clearly.

Understanding the size of something helps set expectations. For example, knowing whether a pet is a tiny kitten or a large dog can change how we prepare to meet it. Size helps us to imagine the physical space something occupies, whether it’s a piece of furniture or an animal.

Examples to illustrate size:

  • A small mouse – suggests it’s tiny and possibly easy to miss.
  • A huge elephant – indicates it’s very large and likely the opposite of easy to miss.

In the sequence of adjectives, size usually comes after quantity and opinion. This order helps paint a more complete picture in a logical way.

For instance:

  • Three large suitcases – tells us how many suitcases there are, then gives us an idea of their size.
  • Several tiny beads – lets us know there are more than a few beads and emphasizes their small size.

This progression from quantity to opinion to size is like building up an image layer by layer, making it easier for anyone listening or reading to visualize the scene or objects being described.

4. Age (how old)

Following the details of how many, what our opinion is, and the size, we next describe how old something is. The age of an item can significantly affect how we perceive and value it, from “ancient” artifacts to “brand new” gadgets.

Highlighting the age of something provides context and background, enriching the story behind the item. Whether it’s an “old” book with a sense of history or a “brand new” car shining in the showroom, knowing the age adds depth to our understanding and appreciation.

Examples to demonstrate age:

  • An ancient fossil – This tells us the fossil is extremely old, adding to its intrigue and value.
  • A new smartphone – Indicates the smartphone is current, possibly featuring the latest technology.

In descriptions, age typically follows quantity, opinion, and size. This order systematically builds up a comprehensive picture.

For instance:

  • Two old paintings first informs us about the number, then about their age, hinting at their historical significance.
  • Several new textbooks lets us know there are multiple books, and their age suggests they contain up-to-date information.

Placing age at this point in the sequence helps to further refine the image we’re creating, allowing the listener or reader to understand not just what an item looks like, but its place in time as well.

5. Shape (what shape it is)

After we talk about quantity, opinion, size, and age, we describe the shape. This tells us if something is “round,” “square,” or another shape. Shape helps us picture objects more clearly and understand how they fit into our world.

Knowing an item’s shape can be as crucial as its size. For example, a “square table” fits differently in a space than a “round table” does. Describing shape makes our mental image of something more precise.

Examples to show shape:

  • A square table – This tells us the table has four equal sides, which might influence where it can go in a room.
  • A round ball – The shape is key to identifying the object as a ball and understanding how it functions.

In descriptions, shape follows quantity, opinion, size, and age. This order helps build a complete image in the listener’s or reader’s mind.

For example:

  • Three rectangular mirrors – We know there are three, and “rectangular” helps us imagine their look and how they might hang on a wall.
  • Several old round coins – This description gives us a count, tells us they’re not new, and “round” clarifies their form.

Adding shape to our descriptions gives a fuller picture, making it easier for everyone to visualize what we’re talking about.

6. Color (what color it is)

After detailing quantity, opinion, size, age, and shape, we often mention the color next. Color adds vibrancy to our descriptions, making them more vivid and easier to visualize. It’s one of the most noticeable attributes and can significantly affect how we perceive an object.

Colors do more than just describe; they evoke feelings and set moods. For instance, a “green shirt” might remind someone of nature and freshness, while a “blue sky” can evoke a sense of calm.

Examples to illustrate color:

  • A green shirt – This gives us a clear visual cue about the shirt’s appearance, adding to the overall description.
  • A blue sky – Mentioning the color helps to paint a serene picture, enhancing the imagery.

In the sequence of adjectives, color comes after we’ve established the quantity, opinion, size, age, and shape. This order makes the description progress naturally, layering details in a way that’s easy to follow.

For example:

  • Two small old square brown tables – This description builds up from the number of tables to their color, giving a complete picture.
  • Several round red balloons – Here, we get a sense of how many, their shape, and finally, their vibrant color, making the mental image more colorful and detailed.

Including color in our descriptions helps to create a more engaging and relatable picture, enabling others to see what we see in our minds.

7. Origin (where it comes from)

After we’ve described the quantity, opinion, size, age, shape, and color, the next detail often shared is the origin, which tells us where something is from. Origin can add a layer of cultural or geographical context to an item, enriching the description with a sense of place or heritage.

Knowing an item’s origin can influence our perception or appreciation of it. For example, a “French pastry” might evoke thoughts of skilled baking and a rich culinary tradition, while an “American car” could bring to mind images of broad highways and innovation in automotive technology.

Examples to clarify origin:

  • A French pastry – This not only informs us about the pastry’s geographical roots but may also imply a certain level of quality and tradition.
  • An American car – Mentioning the car’s origin gives us insight into its design philosophy and possibly its performance characteristics.

In the lineup of adjectives, origin comes after we’ve talked about quantity, opinion, size, age, shape, and color. This structured approach helps to create a detailed and vivid description.

For instance:

  • Three large ancient round blue Italian vases – By the time we reach “Italian,” we have a full understanding of what the vases look like, including their cultural background.
  • Several small new square white Japanese gadgets – This description tells us not just about the gadgets’ physical attributes but also hints at the innovation and design aesthetics typical of Japanese products.

Incorporating the origin into our descriptions adds depth, allowing listeners or readers to connect more deeply with the item by understanding its cultural or geographical background.

8. Material (what it is made of)

Following the details about quantity, opinion, size, age, shape, color, and origin, we next describe the material. This specifies what the item is made from, such as “wood,” “gold,” or “cotton.” Including material in our descriptions offers a sense of texture and quality, enhancing the overall picture we’re painting.

The material of an item can greatly influence our perception of its value, durability, and purpose. For instance, a “wooden chair” suggests sturdiness and natural beauty, while a “silk scarf” implies delicacy and luxury.

Examples to illustrate material:

  • A wooden chair – Tells us about the chair’s construction material, suggesting durability and a natural aesthetic.
  • A silk scarf – Indicates the scarf is made from a fine, soft fabric, giving an impression of elegance and comfort.

In the descriptive sequence, material typically follows quantity, opinion, size, age, shape, color, and origin. This orderly progression ensures that by the time we mention the material, the listener or reader has a comprehensive understanding of the item.

For example:

  • Two small old square red French wooden tables – This description layers in the material at the end, adding to our mental image of the tables’ appearance and suggesting a rustic, durable quality.
  • Several large ancient round blue Chinese silk lanterns – Here, “silk” adds a final touch to the description, highlighting the lanterns’ delicate material and contributing to the visualization of their texture and lightness.

Discussing the material enriches our descriptions, allowing others to not only visualize but almost feel the texture and quality of the items we’re describing, making the narrative more vivid and engaging.

9. Purpose (what it’s used for)

After detailing the quantity, opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, and material, the final aspect we often describe is the purpose. This clarifies what the item is used for, such as a “swimming” pool or a “racing” car, adding a functional context to our description.

The purpose of an item helps to complete our mental image by explaining its intended use or function. A “racing bike” suggests speed and competitiveness, designed for racing, while a “sleeping bag” implies use for sleeping, particularly in outdoor or travel scenarios.

Examples to highlight purpose:

  • A racing bike – Indicates the bike is specifically designed for speed and racing competitions.
  • A sleeping bag – Suggests the bag is meant for sleeping, likely in a camping or outdoor setting.

In the sequence of adjectives, purpose usually comes at the end, following quantity, opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, and material. This comprehensive approach ensures that by the time we mention purpose, the listener or reader has a full understanding of the item in all its aspects.

For example:

  • Two large old square red Italian wooden dining tables – “Dining” reveals the tables’ purpose, rounding off the description by explaining what they are used for.
  • Several small new round blue Japanese silk decorative lanterns – “Decorative” specifies the lanterns’ purpose, adding the final detail to a richly layered description.

Including the purpose in our descriptions provides a clear understanding of how the item is meant to be used, enhancing the practical aspect of our narrative and making it easier for others to envision the item in its intended context.

Let’s Put Them All Together

Putting all the elements of our descriptive “secret code” together creates a richly detailed and vivid description. Here’s how it works when we combine quantity, opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, and purpose into one comprehensive sentence:

I just saw three beautiful large ancient round green Chinese silk decorative lanterns.

This sentence flows smoothly because it follows the logical order we’ve discussed:

  1. Quantity: “three” tells us how many lanterns there are.
  2. Opinion: “beautiful” shares a personal viewpoint on the lanterns’ appearance.
  3. Size: “large” gives us an idea of the lanterns’ dimensions.
  4. Age: “ancient” suggests the lanterns have a significant history.
  5. Shape: “round” describes the physical form of the lanterns.
  6. Color: “green” adds a visual detail about the lanterns’ appearance.
  7. Origin: “Chinese” indicates where the lanterns are from, adding cultural context.
  8. Material: “silk” tells us what the lanterns are made of, suggesting a certain texture and quality.
  9. Purpose: “decorative” clarifies the lanterns’ function or use.

Following this order doesn’t just make the sentence sound right; it ensures that the description is comprehensive, allowing the listener or reader to visualize the lanterns in all their detailed glory. This methodical approach to describing items can greatly enhance clarity and engagement in communication.

Why Bother With the Order of Adjectives?

When we communicate, especially in English, the order in which we present information can make a big difference in how clearly and effectively our message is understood.

Like in a recipe, each ingredient must be added in a certain order to make the dish come out right. The same goes for describing things. Using a specific sequence for adjectives makes our sentences flow better and paints a clearer picture for the listener or reader.

Following this order makes your English sound smooth and professional. It’s like putting puzzle pieces together in the right way to see the whole picture. This structured approach helps ensure that descriptions are easy to follow and understand, enhancing the clarity of communication.

First, we start with quantity because knowing how many of something we discuss sets the foundation for everything else. It’s like knowing how many guests are coming to dinner before you start cooking.

Next, opinions come into play, adding a layer of personality to our descriptions. This is where we get to express how we feel about the subject, making our descriptions more relatable and engaging.

Size, age, shape, color, origin, material, and purpose follow in that order. Each adds a layer of detail, building up a vivid, comprehensive picture. This sequence logically organizes information from the most general to the most specific, making it easier for our brains to process and visualize the description.

Finally, the purpose tells us why an item exists or what it’s used for, wrapping up the description nicely. Completing the presentation is like the cherry on top of a cake.

Adhering to this order improves the quality of our English and turns simple descriptions into vivid stories. It makes our language richer and more engaging, allowing us to communicate more effectively and professionally.

Exceptions to the Rule

While the order of adjectives in English offers a clear guideline, it’s not a strict rule that must always be followed. English is a vibrant and flexible language, allowing for creative expression and stylistic choices. This flexibility means you can sometimes rearrange adjectives for effect or emphasis, making your sentences stand out.

For instance, a poet or writer might choose to prioritize emotion over logic, placing an opinion adjective before quantity for dramatic impact. “Beautiful three dresses” can emphasize the beauty of the dresses more than the fact there are three.

In everyday conversation, people often mix up the order to suit the context or their personal style. This deviation from the norm can make language more colorful and engaging, showing that communication is not just about rules but also about connecting with others.

However, understanding the basic order is still important. It serves as a foundation, ensuring that when we choose to break the rules, we do so intentionally, not out of confusion. Knowing the rules gives us the freedom to play with language more confidently.

Ultimately, the goal of communication is to be understood. Clarity and understanding are key whether you stick to the traditional order or mix it up for creative reasons. Playing with language structure can be a fun way to express yourself, as long as your message remains clear to your audience.

Quick Tips to Master the Order of Adjectives

Understanding the proper order of adjectives in English can significantly improve your speaking and writing skills. Adjectives add depth and detail to our language, but knowing where to place them can sometimes be tricky. Here are some quick tips to help you master the order effortlessly.

  1. Practice: Use this order when you speak or write.
  2. Listen: Pay attention to how others use adjectives.
  3. Read: Reading books, blogs, or articles helps you see examples.
  4. Play: Try making up sentences with lots of adjectives.
  5. Ask: If you’re unsure, ask someone or look it up.

Mastering the order of adjectives in English is a valuable skill that can enhance your language proficiency. By practicing regularly, listening to native speakers, reading extensively, engaging in playful exercises, and seeking clarification when needed, you’ll soon feel confident in using adjectives effectively in your communication.

Knowing how to order adjectives can really polish your English. Don’t worry about getting it perfect every time. The more you practice, the more natural it will feel. So go ahead, describe the world around you, and watch your English skills grow!

Niaj A A Khan is an ESL Instructor with over 8 years of experience in teaching & developing resources at different universities and institutes. Mr. Khan is also a passionate writer working on his first book, "Learn English at Ease."

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