Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

July 15, 2009

Adjective order – does it matter?

Yes it does!

Unfortunately there is a right and wrong way of ordering adjectives when several are used to describe a noun.

Consider these descriptions – can you put them in the correct order?

house: – beautiful,  historic, old, large, country, rundown

man: – attractive, middle-aged, kind, Swiss, tall, slim, blonde

So how can we know which adjective goes where?

The order for arranging adjectives is usually as follows:

opinion+ size + character/quality + age + shape + colour + origin /nationality + material + type/purpose

a beautiful, big, expensive, old, rectangular, dark brown, French, mahogany, grandfather clock.

This sentence is somewhat contrived to illustrate all the possible adjectives. Great, long sentences such as this would not be the norm, but there will be occasions when you will need to use more than one adjective in your description. It is as well to learn this checklist as a rule of thumb.

Some things to remember.

The most significant (or permanent) adjective should go immediately before the noun.

  • An old grandfather French clock wouldn’t be correct because grandfather describes the type of clock.


  • A delicate, brass, French clock would tell us that the fact that the clock is French is key to the description.

Where a lot of adjectives are required we often use more than one clause.

  • A beautiful, antique, French, grandfather clock made of mahogany and decorated in gold leaf.

We use and where the adjectives are in the same category ;

  • An antique French clock decorated in gold and brass.  Here gold and brass are both materials.

Or where they are colours;

  • The school colours are maroon and gold.

For contrast use but;

  • The house was charming but rundown.

Finally, with more than 2 adjectives use and before the final one;

  • Her dress was green, yellow and orange.

and combine them for a contrast;

  • He was stubborn and deceitful but also gentle.

Did you manage to order the two sentences correctly?

  • A beautiful, large, historic, old, rundown, country house.
  • An attractive, tall, kind, middle-aged, slim, blonde, Swiss man.

These sentences look exactly what they are – a list of adjectives with very little style about them. To describe these objects more effectively use some of the combining techniques above.

  • The large country house was old, beautiful and historic, if a little rundown.
  • The blonde, middle-aged,  Swiss man was attractive; tall and slim yet  kind in nature.

1 Comment »

  1. […] more: Adjective order – does it matter? « Rliberni’s Blog Share and […]

    Pingback by Adjective order – does it matter? « Rliberni’s Blog | Learn English Online With Me — July 17, 2009 @ 3:27 am | Reply

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