How to List Adjectives in English

Today is your lucky day. You just won a brand new car! You can choose any car you would like, but you have to be specific. What color is it going to be? What country is it made in? Is it new or used? Does it have any other notable features?

Now that you’ve answered these questions you have a list of adjectives. You might have answered: blue, American, brand new and sexy. So that means you have a blue, American, brand new, manual,sexy car, right? Wrong.

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There is a specific order that adjectives follow in English and to list them any other way would sound strange. The correct way to order it would be: a sexy brand new blue American car.

Why is “blue, American, manual, brand new, sexy car” incorrect to say and “sexy, brand new, blue, American, manual car” is correct?” Here are some simple rules to follow when ordering adjectives.

The Correct Order

When combining more than one adjective to describe something the order you place the adjectives will go in this order.

  1. Determiner or article 
    • Determiners e.g. this, that, these, those, my, mine, your, yours, him, his, her, hers, they, their, Sam’s ; or
    • Articles – a, an, the

Example: That broken table needs a new leg.

  1. Opinion adjective – What is your opinion of the noun you are describing?
    e.g. polite, fun, cute, difficult, hard-working

Example: He is an uncultured idiot who needs a geography lesson if he thinks Rio de Janeiro is the capital of Brazil.

  1. Size, including adjectives, comparatives and superlatives

    • height; e.g. tall, short, high, low; taller, tallest
    • width; e.g. wide, narrow, thin, slim; wider, widest
    • length; e.g. long, short; longer, longest
    • volume; e.g. fat, huge; fatter, fattest

Example: Charlie ate a huge piece of cake and got sick afterwards.

  1. Shape – What shape is it?
    e.g. circular, oval, triangular, square, 5-sided, hexagonal, irregular

Example: The box promised a round pizza, but it turned out to be square instead.

  1. Age – How old is it?
    e.g. new, young, adolescent, teenage, middle-aged, old, ancient

Example: The old car broke down yesterday on the freeway.

  1. Color – What color is it?
    e.g. red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white, grey, black, black and white, light blue, dark red, pale blue, reddish brown, off-white, bright green, warm yellow

Example:  You have to wear a greenwristband in order to gain entrance to the club.

  1. Origin – Where does it come from?
    e.g. Brazilian, Chinese, English, American, Canadian, Japanese

Example: Brazilian families love to travel to the US to go shopping.

  1. Religion – Does it pertain to a particular religion?
    e.g. Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, Moslem, pagan, atheist

Example: Buddhist monks shave their heads.

  1. Material – What is the object made out of?
    e.g. wood, plastic, metal, ceramic, paper, silk

Example:  Being shot by a rubber bullet hurts less than being shot by a metalbullet.

  1. Purpose – Describes what something is used for. Often ends in “ing”
    e.g. campus (as in ‘campus activities’), physics (as in ‘physics teacher’), sleeping bag, rocking chair, baseball hat.

Example: I like to wear cowboy boots when I dance Sertanejo music.

Style Note

We usually use no more than three adjectives before a noun but this is not a strict rule. If it sounds strange try wording it differently. For example, the following sentence should be reworded:

“Derek is a handsome, intelligent, tall, brown eyed, Buddhist, young American.”

In order to maintain the same level of description without sounding too wordy, this sentence can be rewritten as such:

“Derek is a handsome, intelligent young man with brown eyes from America who believes in Buddhism.”

Practice

Rewrite the following sentences using the adjectives in blue. Make sure you put them in the correct order.

  1. Aunt Maria wants a table. (new, kitchen, wooden)
  2. Carlos took a trip. (2-week, exhausting)
  3. These are brownies. (chocolate, delicious, American, huge)
  4. Fabio prefers cars. (German, reliable, red)
  5. John wants to buy a suit. (tailored, Italian, hand-crafted)
  6. I want a girlfriend. (French-speaking, beautiful, red-headed)
  7. The Johnsons just bought a house. (3-story, stone, funny-looking)
  8. The cat brought in an animal. (rotten, smelly, gross)
  9. My shoes broke. (high-heeled, green, favorite)

 

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4 Comments

  1. Fábio on July 22, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Number is difficult to me. The cat brought in an animal. (rotten, smelly, gross). Isnt smelly and gross opinions? And what rotten would be classified as?

  2. Kostya on November 30, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Aunt Maria wants a new wooden kitchen table. (new, kitchen, wooden)
    Carlos took an exhausting 2-week trip. (2-week, exhausting)
    These are delicious huge chocolate American brownies. (chocolate, delicious, American, huge)
    Fabio prefers reliable red German cars. (German, reliable, red)
    John wants to buy a tailored hand-crafted Italian suit. (tailored, Italian, hand-crafted)
    I want a French-speaking beautiful red-headed girlfriend. (French-speaking, beautiful, red-headed)
    The Johnsons just bought a funny-looking stone 3-story house. (3-story, stone, funny-looking)
    The cat brought in a gross smelly rotten animal. (rotten, smelly, gross)
    My favorite green high-heeled shoes broke. (high-heeled, green, favorite)

    • Justin on November 30, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      Hey Kostya, Thanks for the awesome post and example! I’d love to invite you to join the RLE international community here https://www.facebook.com/groups/reallifeenglish/ and I hope to see more participation from you. Take care.

      Justin

  3. Abdi Shifa on February 3, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    thank

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