Adjective Order

Arrange modifiers in natural sounding word order

Purple and pink, paisley cat
A pretty, little, purple-and-pink
paisley pussycat
 

 

Adjectives are often placed before a noun in the following order:

EVALUATION/ OPINION APPEARANCE/ QUALITY AGE/ PERIOD COLOR/ PATTERN ORIGIN/ MATERIAL TYPE / FUNCTION
  SIZE / MEASURE     GEOGRAPHICAL  TYPE 

beautiful

big / large

new-born

red

French

good

narrow / wide

old

green

Mexican

1st class

bad

small / little

young

blue

Chinese

multi-purpose

ugly

low / high

new

light-yellow

beach

wireless

interesting

long / short

antique

striped

mountain

HD / 3-D

fascinating

light / heavy

ancient

dark blue

oceanic

men's

  SHAPE     ORIGIN FUNCTION

intelligent

round

five-year-old

deep purple

solar

pretty

triangular

brand-new

pink

nuclear

hunting

unsightly

square

five-day-old

brown

molecular

cooking

  CONDITION      MATERIAL  

foul

tarnished

century-old

rose

plastic

walking

stupid

chipped

mature

olive

ceramic

running

silly

broken

middle-age

aqua

cotton

dancing

ridiculous

rotten

teenage

lime

paper

front-loading

easy

shiny

prehistoric

polka-dot

gold

off-road

Also called pre-nominal modifiers; and pre-head modifiers – the linguistic term for modifiers placed before the head noun in a clause

 

 

The adjective word order shown above occurs with a small amount of variation. Preference for particular word order is influenced by the speech of friends, community members, and media personalities (in news, in commercials, in songs, and so on).  In addition, word order is influenced by the ability to recall and retrieve words when describing a stored visual image.

More word-order variation tends to occur with the first three categories (Opinion, Appearance, Age) than the last three (Color, Origin, Type).  When in doubt, ask a native speaker, who will most likely have a strong opinion about what order sounds natural.  This chart is offered to you as a guide. The categories are not "written in stone".

Related page: Using hyphens with modifiers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adjective Order

Sentence Examples

 

 

banana
mobius
dragon costume
Olodum
mod pants
water dog
ipad
bowling ball
 

 

 

Sentence Examples   (Word order may vary.)

SENT / QUES EVAL / OPINION APPEAR / QUALITY AGE / PERIOD COLOR / PATTER ORIGIN/MATERIAL  TYPE/FUNCTION  NOUN

Who left this   

foul, 

rotten, 

two-week-old 

 

 

 

banana?

The artist created a 

fantastic, 

huge, mobius-shaped, 

 

shiny, 

stainless-steel 

 

sculpture.

They wore a 

beautiful, 

life-size, 

 

red-and-yellow  

feathered, Chinese-dragon 

 

costume.

Olodum is a

powerful

hypnotic, energetic,

 

 

Brazilian 

Samba-reggae 

ensemble.

He wore some

mod / fab    

 

1960's 

red-flowered/ patterned 

cotton 

bell-bottom/ discotheque

pants.

He was an

intelligent, 

 

young,  

black,   

Portuguese  

water / hunting  

dog.

This is my 

sleek, 

 

new, 

black, 

 

HD (high definition)

iPad.

She chose a 

cute,  

 

 

pink,

 

girls', Hello Kitty, bowling  

ball.

Speakers rarely use more than three or four adjectives before a noun unless they are trying to be very descriptive.
*Nominal modifiers (Noun Modifiers or -ing modifiers) may usually be restated as a prepositional phrase: for hunting, for girls, by Sanrio ©, by Swiss Army © (a post-nominal prep. phrase).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Variations

Appearance

heirloom tomato
 

 

Appearance: size, shape, and condition

SENTENCE APPEARANCE 1 APPEARANCE 2 APPEARANCE 3 NOUN PHRASE

We picked a  

gigantic   (size)

round (shape)

ripe (condition)

tomato.

 

ripe  (condition)

large (size)

heart-shaped  (shape)

 

 

round  (shape)

ripe  (condition)

jumbo  (size)

 

ripe (adj.) – ready to pick and to eat

A person's preference for word order may vary with the use of a synonym (large, big, jumbo, gigantic), or with word length (hyphenated words last).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post-Nominal Modifiers

Modifiers placed after the noun 

 

 

 

Function and Type Modifiers

PRE-POSITION MODIFIER

Modifiers for function or type may be placed before the noun. Function modifiers, mostly occur as -ing verb forms. Type modifiers often occur as past participle modifiers.

FUNCTION

Driving classes begin next week.

We'll be driving an off-road vehicle.  vehicle (n.) – auto, car

TYPE

Sugar cookies are my favorite.

Whitney bought some laced shoes(shoes with ties)
Whitney bought some high-heeled boots

POST-POSITION MODIFIER

Function and type may also be expressed with a prepositional phrase: function – by;   type – with + noun.

NOUN  FOR  VERB-ING

Classes for driving begin next week.

We'll be driving a vehicle for off-road driving. (SUV)
 

NOUN  WITH  + NOUN

Cookies with sugar are my favorite.  (made with)

shoe lacesWhitney bought some shoes with laces.  

 

See For + Gerund and By / With

 

 

 

 

Type — Maker or Brand Modifiers

PRE-POSITION MODIFIER

A designer, artist, maker, seller, or brand-name modifier is usually placed before the noun.

MAKER

Nike shoes are very durable.  (brand name)

She prefers to buy Macy's shoes. (department store)

We bought a Picasso painting. (artist's work of art)

Mother's pies are delicious.

POST-POSITION MODIFIER

A maker or brand modifier is also expressed with a by phrase (from when the source is a store) placed after the noun. 

NOUN BY / FROM  VERB-ING

Shoes by Nike are very durable.  (made by Nike…)

She prefers to buy shoes from Macy's(sold in Macy's…)

We bought a painting by Picasso.  (painted by Picasso…)

Pies by mother are delicious. (commercial names only)
 

 

See By Phrases (passive voice).

 

 

 

"Unbreakable words" — something

PRE-POSITION MODIFIER

When some is used as a quantifier before a noun, the modifier is placed directly before the noun.

SOME – QUANTIFIER

Some funny shows are on television tonight 

We'd prefer some quiet places to work.

We hired some new employees.

POST-POSITION MODIFIER

When some is part of a compound word, such as someone, something, somewhere, it is placed after the word.

SOME – UNKNOWN, UNIDENTIFIED

Something funny will be on television tonight.  (I can't think of the name.)

Let's go somewhere quiet (Any place, yet unidentified)

Someone new will be working here.  (Unknown, yet unidentified)
 

 

 See Some – A  Vague One.

 

 

 

 

Adjective Complements (resulting state modifiers)

PRE-POSITION MODIFIER

A modifier may be used after a be verb (as a predicate complement) or before a noun to describe the noun's condition at that time.

PRE-NOMINAL — EXISTING

The table is clean.  It's a clean table. He wiped it.

His house is blue.  It's a blue house. He painted it.

The egg is cracked.  It's a cracked egg. (damaged)  He cracked it.  

POST-POSITION MODIFIER

In these examples, the adjective indicating the resulting state is placed after the direct object.

POST-NOMINAL — RESULTNG STATE

He wiped the table clean.

He painted his house blue.

He cracked the egg open. (ready to eat or cook)

 

nominal (adj.) – relating to the noun
See Adjective Complements to Verbs.

 

 

 

 

Modifying Clauses

WORD- MODIFIERS

One-word modifiers (adjective, noun, adverb, hyphenated modifiers) mostly occur before a noun.

PRE-NOMINAL — SHORT LENGTH

Our next-door neighbors have a son. (linked modifiers  adv. + noun)

Their adult son plays basketball. (adjective)

Their twenty-two-year old son plays basketball. (number modifiers)

His early-morning, basketball practices wake us up.  (adverb + noun modifiers)

PHRASE AND CLAUSE MODIFIERS

Longer phrases and clauses occur after the noun. (Speakers prefer to place "heavier" or longer content toward the end of a sentence.)

POST-NOMINAL —LONGER LENGTH

Our neighbors who live next door have a son. (modifying clause)

Their son still living at home plays basketball. (reduced modifying clause)

His basketball practices early in the morning wake us up.  (prep. phrase)

 

See Modifying Clause Summary and Preposition Summary

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Word Order Resources

 

 

FRANK / BIBER

Sequence of adjectives before nouns:

Determiners | General Description | Physical State | Proper Adjective | Noun Adjuncts | Noun

→ Jane's daringly-cut, gold-lamé, Parisian, evening gown 

(Frank Parts of Speech I 120)

 

Biber includes the most common attributive adjectives across registers:

Descriptors: size/amount (big, small, great); time (new, old, young); color (black, white, red); evaluative (good, best, right); relational (same, whole, general); topical (political, public)  

However, an ordering of attributes is not indicated.   (Biber 512)

 

HUDDLESTON

Residual pre-head modifiers:  Evaluative > General property > Age > Colour > Provenance > Manufacture > Type

→  an attractive, tight-fitting, brand-new, pink, Italian, lycra, women's swimsuit

  • Evaluative: wonderful, annoying, ghastly, excellent, tasty, etc.
  • General property:  size (big, small) dimension (long, tall) sound (loud, faint) touch (rough, smooth) taste (sweet, bitter)  others: foul, chilling, ear-splitting, mind-numbing, etc.
  • Age: old, new, young, ancient, modern
  • Colour: red, blue, rose, tangerine, sick-yellow
  • Provenance:  French, Greek, Indonesian, Asian, South African
  • Manufacture: cotton, iron, polyester  Mode: carved, boiled, hand-made
  • Type (nominals): photo album, dessert spoon, passenger aircraft, children's diseases 

(Huddleston 5 §15, 6 §3.3)

 

 

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Describing in Detail

 

 

Put the adjectives in a natural sounding word order.

  1. Select the response from the menu that best completes the sentence.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" or "check 1-10" button.

 

1.

 


2.
sports car

 


3.
a barber pole

 


4.
boy chopping wood

5.
high-heels

6.

7.
tree

8.

9.
tea pot and cups

10.
Mushroom House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

In Sickness and in Health

large dogtoy-sized dog
 

 

Read for errors

Selecting a dog requires careful thought.   Are you willing to make a ten to fifteen year commitment (promise to do something) — "in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer?" (marriage vow)

 First, how old are the members of your family?  A toy-sized, little, active, dog under fifteen pounds is not suitable (not a good choice) If you have a child younger than seven.  Puppies have little, ultra-sharp, pointed teeth and will chew on anything, including your child!  Getting a puppy could result in accidental injury and a lasting fear of dogs. 

Toy dogs are small-boned, touch-sensitive, high-maintenance pets. They do not do well in a noisy, big, confusing environment.  They "break" easily and are quicker to bite than larger-boned dogs.  Unless your children are unusually sensitive, low-key, respectful individuals, a medium to large dog over five-months-old is a safer choice. 

Who will be the dog's primary caretaker? If you say "Mom", think again. In the past, a mom was a work-all-day, stay-at-home, busy, miracle worker.   But now she may be an eight-to-six, high-level, busy executive. Of course, the kids will promise to be hard-working, thoughtful, good caretakers. However, as soon as the job is inconvenient, the dog will be left alone and in need.

  One parent should be the primary caretaker with a view to a ten to fifteen year life span. In that time, the children will grow up, the family may move, and the parents may even divorce. And it is not fair to the dog to leave it when it is weak, old, dependent, and in need of love and care

If you can only make a short-term commitment, then consider adopting an older, stable, medium-sized dog from a shelter.  Or offer to take care of friends' dogs while they are away.  Above all, think carefully and make a  rational not an emotional decision before adopting a dog.

 

small-boned dogenvironment (n.) – the people and things that are around you in a particular place

suitable (adj.) – having the right qualities for a particular person, purpose, or situation

caretaker (n.) – a person who looks after something, someone or a pet

small-boned (adj.) – having light weight, easily breakable skeletal bones 

 

 

 

Put the modifiers in a more natural sounding word order. 

Note that word order may vary depending on: (1) the speaker's intent (emphasis or normal); (2) the speaker's dialect; (3) the weighting of the adjectives in a series  (placing longer adjectives towards the end).

  1. Edit the text in the box.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" or "check 11-20" button.

 

11.
First, how old are the members of your family? A toy-sized, little, active, dog under fifteen pounds is not suitable If you have a child younger than seven.


12.
Puppies have little, ultra-sharp, pointed teeth and will teethe (chew) on anything, including your child.


13.
Toy dogs are small-boned, touch-sensitive, high-maintenance pets.

14.
They do not do well in a noisy, big, confusing environment.


15.
They "break" easily and are quicker to bite than larger-boned dogs.  Unless your children are unusually sensitive, low-key, respectful individuals, a medium to large dog over five-months-old is a safer choice.


16.
In the past, a mom was a work-all-day, stay-at-home, busy, miracle worker.


17.
But now she may be an eight-to-six, high-level, busy executive.


18.
Of course, the kids will promise to be hard-working, thoughtful, good, caretakers. However, as soon as the job is inconvenient, the dog will be left alone and in need.


19.
And it is not fair to the dog to leave it when it is weak, old, dependent, and in need of love and care.


20.
If you can only make a short-term commitment, then consider adopting a stable, older, medium-sized dog from a rescue shelter.