Adjective Order in English – Language – ESL: language, types of adjectives, adjective order & vocabulary – from Pre-Intermediate to Advanced levels

order of adjectives

Adjectives can be used to describe lots of things, from physical size, age, shape, colour, material, to more abstract things like opinion, origin and purpose.

We can use adjectives together to give a detailed description of something.

Adjectives that express opinions usually come before all others, but it can sometimes depend on what exactly you want to emphasise.

For example:

“That’s a nice, big, blue bag.” (You like the bag.)
“That’s a nice blue.” (You like the colour.)

When we group adjectives together there is a general (sometimes flexible) rule for the position of each type of adjective, these are:-

Position 1st* 2nd* 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th
Opinion Size Age Shape Colour Material Origin Purpose
Nice Small Old Square Black Plastic British Racing
Ugly Big New Circular Blue Cotton American Running

IMPORTANT: The order of adjectives before a noun IS NOT FIXED.  This chart is only offered as a guide and is the order that is preferred.

You might swap adjectives that express an opinion and an adjective based on fact depending on what you wish to emphasise:

For example:

  • “She had a long, ugly nose.” emphasising the length of her nose.
  • “He was a silly, little man.” emphasising that the man was silly.

This is just for fun as you wouldn’t normally see so many adjectives in one description.

For example:

  • “She had a big, ugly, old, baggy, blue, stripey, cotton, British, knitting bag.”

Does it matter if you get it wrong? Well outside of exams and tests, it won’t kill you, but people reading or listening to you will find it odd if you mix up the order.

Sometimes we use more than one adjective in front of a noun:

He was a nice intelligent young man.
She had a small round black wooden box.

Opinion adjectives:

Some adjectives give a general opinion. We can use these adjectives to describe almost any noun:

good bad lovely  strange
beautiful nice brilliant excellent
awful important wonderful nasty

Some adjectives give a specific opinion. We only use these adjectives to describe particular kinds of noun:

Food: tasty; delicious
Furniture, buildings: comfortable; uncomfortable
People, animals: clever; intelligent; friendly

We usually put a general opinion in front of a specific opinion:

Nice tasty soup.
A nasty uncomfortable armchair
A lovely intelligent animal

Usually we put an adjective that gives an opinion in front of an adjective that is descriptive:

a nice red dress; a silly old man; those horrible yellow curtains

We often have two adjectives in front of a noun:

a handsome young man; a big black car; that horrible big dog

Sometimes we have three adjectives, but this is unusual:

a nice handsome young man;
a big black American car;
that horrible big fierce dog

It is very unusual to have more than three adjectives.

Adjectives usually come in this order:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
General
opinion
Specific
opinion
Size  Shape Age  Colour Nationality Material

We use some adjectives only after a link verb:

afraid alive alone asleep
content glad  ill ready
sorry sure unable well

Some of the commonest -ed adjectives are normally used only after a link verb:

annoyed;  finished;  bored; pleased; thrilled

We say:

Our teacher was ill.
My uncle was very glad when he heard the news.
The policeman seemed to be very annoyed

but we do not say:

We had an ill teacher.
When he heard the news he was a very glad uncle
He seemed to be a very annoyed policeman

A few adjectives are used only in front of a noun:

north
south
east
west
northern
southern
eastern
western
countless
occasional
lone
eventful
indoor
outdoor

We say:

He lives in the eastern district.
There were countless problems with the new machinery.

but we do not say:

The district he lives in is eastern
The problems with the new machinery were countless.

Try these tasks to improve your adjective ordering.

Types of Adjectives

Before the adjectives you will normally have the Determiner.

Determiner: The determiner tells us if the noun is singular or plural, definite or indefinite

  • a, an, the, my, your, four, those, some etc

And then we have the adjectives that refer to…

Opinion: Explains what we think about something. This is usually our opinion, attitude or observations. These adjectives almost always come before all other adjectives.

  • beautiful, boring, stupid, delicious, useful, lovely, comfortable

Size: Tells us how big or small something is.

  • big, small, tall, huge, tiny

Shape / Weight / Length: Tells about the shape of something or how long or short it is. It can also refer to the weight of someone or something.

  • round, square, circular, skinny, fat, heavy, straight, long, short,

Condition: Tells us the general condition or state of something

  • broken, cold, hot, wet, hungry, rich, easy, difficult, dirty

Age: Tells us how old someone or something is.

  • old, young, new, ancient, antique

Colour: The colour or approximate colour of something.

  • green, white, blue, reddish, purple

Pattern: The pattern or design of something.

  • striped, spotted, checked, flowery

Origin: Tells us where something is from.

  • American, British, Italian, eastern, Australian, Chilean

Material: What is the thing made of or constructed of?

  • gold, wooden, silk, paper, synthetic, cotton, woollen

Purpose/Qualifier/Use: What is it for? These adjectives often end in –ing.

  • sleeping (bag), gardening (gloves), shopping (bag), wedding (dress)

If you look at the examples above, you can ask… what are the gloves used for? (gardening) What is the bag used for? (shopping)

And after these we adjectives we have the…

Noun: The person or thing that is being described

Examples of the order of adjectives before a noun

Something to have in mind is that it does not sound natural using three or more adjectives in the same sentence and it is very rare to hear four adjectives together before a noun.

  • A big fat dog.
  • An interesting old Indian rug.
  • A striped silk shirt
  • Some comfortable black sleeping bags
  • Four small round wooden tables
  • Those funny little old men

VOCABULARY:   Adjectives

Shape Size Sound
broad
crooked
curved
deep
even
flat
hilly
jagged
round
shallow
square
steep
straight
thick
thin
triangular
uneven
average
big
fat
gigantic
huge
large
little
long
massive
medium
miniature
narrow
petite
short
skinny
small
tall
tiny
wide
cooing
deafening
faint
harsh
high-pitched
hissing
hushed
husky
loud
melodic
moaning
mute
noisy
purring
quiet
raspy
screeching
shrill
silent
soft
squeaky
squealing
thundering
voiceless
whispering
Speed Taste Time
fast
quick
rapid
slow
swift
bitter
bland
delicious
different
fresh
greasy
hot
juicy
repulsive
revolting
ripe
rotten
salty
sour
spicy
stale
strong
sweet
tasteless
tasty
terrible
wonderful
ancient
brief
early
late
long
modern
new
old
old-fashioned
quick
short
young
Touch
blunt
boiling
breakable
breezy
broken
bumpy
chilly
clean
cold
cool
crooked
cuddly
curly
damaged
damp
different
dirty
dry
dusty
filthy
flaky
fluffy
fuzzy
greasy
grubby
hard
icy
loose
plastic
prickly
ripe
rough
rubbery
scratchy
shaky
shaggy
sharp
silky
slimy
slippery
smooth
soft
solid
steady
sticky
tight
uneven
unusual
unripe
warm
weak
wet
wooden
wooly

Feelings

Feelings – negative Feelings – neutral Feelings – positive
afraid
angry
annoyed
anxious
arrogant
ashamed
awful
bad
bewildered
bored
concerned
condemned
confused
creepy
cruel
dangerous
defeated
defiant
depressed
disgusted
disturbed
doubtful
eerie
embarrassed
envious
evil
fierce
foolish
frantic
frightened
grieving
guilty
helpless
hungry
hurt
ill
jealous
lonely
mad
naughty
nervous
obnoxious
outrageous
panicky
repulsive
safe
scared
shy
sleepy
sore
strange
tense
terrible
tired
troubled
unusual
upset
uptight
weary
wicked
worried
alright
calm
different
fair
fine
OK
pleasant
puzzled
agreeable
alert
amused
brave
bright
charming
cheerful
comfortable
cooperative
courageous
delightful
determined
eager
elated
enchanting
encouraging
energetic
enthusiastic
excited
exuberant
faithful
fantastic
friendly
frowning
funny
gentle
glorious
good
happy
healthy
helpful
hilarious
innocent
jolly
kind
lively
lovely
lucky
obedient
perfect
proud
relaxed
relieved
silly
smiling
splendid
successful
thoughtful
victorious
vivacious
well
witty
wonderful
Appearance Condition
adorable
alert
average
beautiful
blonde
bloody
blushing
bright
clean
clear
cloudy
colourful
concerned
crowded
curious
cute
dark
dirty
drab
distinct
dull
elegant
fancy
filthy
glamorous
gleaming
graceful
grotesque
homely
light
misty
motionless
muddy
plain
poised
quaint
scary
shiny
smoggy
sparkling
spotless
stormy
strange
ugly
unsightly
unusual
alive
brainy
broken
busy
careful
cautious
clever
crazy
damaged
dead
difficult
easy
fake
false
famous
forward
fragile
guilty
helpful
helpless
important
impossible
infamous
innocent
inquisitive
mad
modern
open
outgoing
outstanding
poor
powerful
puzzled
real
rich
right
robust
sane
scary
shy
sleepy
stupid
super
tame
thick
tired
wild
wrong
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