The topic of the order of adjectives can be confusing because many resources offer slightly different orders, sometimes with more or fewer categories. While we don’t claim we have the best order, we will try to present it in an interactive and learner-friendly way to make sure it helps.
To dive deeper into the topic of the types & order of adjectives in English, read the second part of this article called “The Order of Adjectives in English: Part 2 – The Big Bad Wolf or How Order Changes”. (Opens in a new tab.)
- 1. General information
- 2. More than one adjective
- 3. Types and order of adjectives: an (interactive) infographic
- 4. Adjectives that have a fixed position
- 5. Conclusion
- 6. Interactive practice
If the image below appears to be broken, click on the link at the bottom of it to open it.Order of adjectives – Color Legend by Meri Zaha
1. General information
Adjectives are words that modify (describe) other words. When that happens, we learn more about the other words in terms of their size, shape, color, or some other quality. Some of the words that adjectives can describe include nouns1, pronouns2, or gerunds3.
beautiful flowers1; oh, poor me2; dirty dancing3
Adjectives can be placed either:
- before the word they modify
- after it, following the linking verb to be1
- after a sense verb2 that acts as a linking verb.
- This is an interesting story.
- This story is1 interesting.
- This story sounds2 interesting.
*Linking verbs are not action verbs. They are sometimes called state-of-being verbs, and they tell us what the subject is by identifying(noun) and describing(adjective) it, rather than what it does(action verb).
Tom is a cat. When he is scared, he jumps and hisses.
**The most common linking verb is the verb to be in all its forms (is, was, has been, will be, etc.). Other verbs that can act as linking verbs are the sense verbs (look, seem, taste, feel, smell, and sound). There are other linking verbs as well, for example, to become, to turn, etc.
- Sorry, I am late.
- This seems strange.
- This is an interesting story.
- This story is/ seems strange.
Let’s not forget that not all languages position adjectives the same way. Depending on your learners’ native language, this may be a bit challenging.
For example, in Spanish, most adjectives usually go after the noun they describe, or if they move before the noun, the meaning may change.
- EN – a tall man
- ES – un hombre alto
Also, some languages have grammatical gender, which means that there needs to be a gender agreement between the adjective and the word it describes, which, in turn, means that the adjective changes. (EN = English; FIN = Finnish; ES = Spanish; RUS = Russian)
- EN – a small boy; a small girl
- FIN – pieni poika, pieni tyttö
- ES – un niño pequeño; una niña pequeña
- RUS – маленький мальчик; маленькая девочка
In some languages, plurals also play a role, and there needs to be agreement there as well. Luckily, English is easier in this respect, and there is no need to learn additional endings for adjectives. (EN = English; FIN = Finnish; BG = Bulgarian)
- EN – a beautiful house; beautiful houses
- FIN – kaunis talo; kauniita taloja
- BG – красива къща; красиви къщи
2. More than one adjective
If we want to describe something further, we can add two or more adjectives before the words we are describing (nouns, gerunds, etc.)
This is a beautiful, small garden.
In such cases, the adjectives come in a particular order.
I have a big, brown dog. ✅
I have a brown, big dog. ❌
*The order of adjectives is not written in stone. Different sources order adjectives differently and sometimes even have more or fewer categories.
Generally speaking, the adjectives we use to talk about our opinions or thoughts about something or someone (also called opinion adjectives1) come before the rest. The rest are collectively called fact adjectives2. Fact adjectives describe a factual feature someone or something has in terms of height, shape, color, origin, etc.
Pretty1, round2 table.
3. Types and order of adjectives: an (interactive) infographic
For the interactive features below to work, consider using the Chrome browser.
1. Adjectives of opinion
We use opinion adjectives to express our opinions and thoughts about something or someone.
Note, opinion adjectives do not support facts! They express opinions!
good, bad, beautiful, nice
Lily is such a nice dog!
2. Size and measurement adjectives
Adjectives of measurement and size are used to describe if someone or something is tall, short, big, long or small, etc.
big, small, tiny, huge
Kodiak bears are the largest bears in the world.
3. Adjectives of shape
As the name suggests, we use shape adjectives to describe things in terms of their shape.
*Some adjectives in this category are also nouns.
*square, *round, rectangular, flat
A planet is round because of gravity. A planet’s gravity pulls equally from all sides. (example source)
4. Adjectives of condition
Adjectives of condition are used to describe the condition/ state something or someone is in. Conditions can be general (rich, powerful) or temporary (clean, dirty).
Emotions (happy, sad) are also considered condition adjectives.
happy, sad, clean, dirty
My cat Oreo isn’t very happy right now.
5. Age adjectives
We use these adjectives to talk about age. Some describe only people (young, old), and others, only things (new, antique). Some we can use to describe people, things, as well as places.
young, old, new, antique
A new dinosaur fossil from Morocco dating to 167-163 million years old is thought to be the oldest ever discovered. (example source)
6. Adjectives of color
We use color adjectives to indicate the color or the approximate color of things (bluish, yellowish).
We can also use the property of colors (opaque), and if they are in the same sentence, the property comes first.
orange, reddish, transparent
You should never eat red mushrooms because they are toxic.
7. Adjectives of pattern
Adjectives of pattern describe the patterns of materials, such as furs, fabrics, etc. These adjectives are also used to describe animals’ coats.
polka-dot, checked, striped
A tiger’s striped coat helps them blend in with trees and tall grasses.
8. Adjectives of origin
We use adjectives of origin to say where someone or something comes from.
Note! Always capitalize adjectives of origin.
Spanish, Chinese, German
Lasagna is a classic Italian dish.
9. Adjectives of material
We use adjectives of material to describe what something is made of.
wooden, plastic, metallic
This restaurant serves cheese and meat bites on a wooden board as an appetizer.
10. Adjectives of purpose
Adjectives of purpose are there to help us describe what something is for.
Usually, they end in -ing but sometimes a noun can also act as an adjective and describe the purpose of another noun.
shopping bag, rolling pin, kitchen table, passenger seat
Red and white wine glasses have differently shaped bowls.
This infographic is based on the order presented in the Farlex Grammar Book Complete English Grammar Rules.
4. Adjectives that have a fixed position
So far it became clear that adjectives can come both before or after the word they describe, and even though there is a specific way to order multiple adjectives in a sentence, that too is flexible sometimes.
Most adjectives, as shown above with the adjective red can take both positions. However, there are adjectives that can only have a predictive position, and placing them differently is not a matter of opinion or emphasis, it’s simply wrong. Many of these adjectives start with the letter “a”.
The list goes on.
➡️ The hamster is alert and thinking of escape.✅
➡️ The alert hamster is thinking of escape.❌
- Simply put, adjectives are words that are used to describe other words in terms of size, height, width, or some other quality.
- Most adjectives can be placed right before the word they describe or right after it, following a linking verb, for example, to be. Some, however, have a fixed position.
- When describing more than one quality, we can have several adjectives in a sentence. They usually come in a particular order.
- The order of adjectives in English is not written in stone. Different sources have a different order, some even have additional or fewer categories than the ones shown here.
- There are two main categories of adjectives: opinion adjectives & fact adjectives.
- Generally, opinion adjectives come before fact adjectives.
6. Interactive practice
1. What are adjectives and what do they do?
2. Where do adjectives go in a sentence?
3. What are the main categories of adjectives?
4. Opinion adjectives come before fact adjectives in a sentence?
5. Put the following adjective categories in the right order
6. Put the following adjective categories in the right order
7. The following adjectives are taken from the sentences above. What types are they?
8. Choose the correctly ordered sentence
9. Put the adjectives in the right order
10. Choose the correctly ordered sentence
11. The following adjectives are taken from the sentences above. What types are they?
12. Put the adjectives in the right order
13. Put the following adjective categories in the right order
14. Put the adjectives in the right order
15. The following adjectives are taken from the sentences above. What types are they?
If you are interested in taking a more in-depth look at the topic, check out the “The Order of Adjectives in English: Part 2 – The Big Bad Wolf or How Order Changes” post. (opens in a new tab)