The correct order for a row of adjectives modifying a noun
It happens often that two adjectives or even several adjectives are used to describe a noun. With more than one adjective in a row, there is a specific order for this group of adjectives to follow.
The following shows categories of adjectives in the correct order in which they are used to describe a noun.
Determiner – We normally begin a sentence of this nature with a determiner. The determiner can be an article (a, an, the), a demonstrative adjective (this, that, these, those), a possessive adjective (my, your, his, her, its, our, their) or an amount.
Observation/Opinion – beautiful, best, dirty, funny, sweet, ugly, worthless
Size – big, large, small, huge, short, thick, 2-foot-long
Age* -- aged, elderly, new, 6-year-old, senior, young, youthful
Shape – circular, flat, oblong, oval, round, square, triangular
Colour – blue, emerald, green, orange, red, violet, yellow
Origin/Location – African, British, Chinese, Hawaiian, Japanese, Roman, Surinamese (It tells us where the noun comes from)
Material – bronze, gold, plastic, silk, silver, steel, wooden
Qualifier/purpose – It can be a noun (garden tool) or verb (used car) acting as an adjective.
(*Sometimes, age comes after shape.)
Coordinate adjectives are adjectives that are equally important in describing a noun, without one of them outranking the others, and they are separated by a comma or commas.
To know if the adjectives used in a sentence are coordinate so that a comma is used between them, reverse the order of the adjectives or use the word and to separate the two adjectives. If they make sense, they are coordinate and a comma is required.
- He is a highly qualified, experienced doctor.
- He is an experienced, highly qualified doctor.
- He is a highly qualified and experienced doctor.
(Both make sense, which means both adjectives are of equal importance (coordinate) and a comma is used.)
Three or more coordinate adjectives
When there are three or more coordinate adjectives, separate the adjectives with commas and the last two adjectives with the word and.
- She bought him a yellow, brown and red cap.
- There were round, square and oval birthday cakes on sale at the bakery.
No commas are required to separate non-coordinate adjectives that belong to different categories of adjectives. The adjectives are shown in bold.
This beautiful large 10-year-old red-coloured Russian-designed wooden summer house is for sale.
(Summer is a noun acting as an adjective modifying the noun house.)
She inherited that light yellowish-brown wicker cat basket from her grandmother, who used to keep a playful small black cat.
(Wicker and cat are nouns acting as modifying adjectives.)
Coordinate and non-coordinate adjectives
Coordinate and non-coordinate adjectives may exist in a single sentence.
The items he bought included a reasonably-priced, imported glass wine jug.
(Reasonably-priced and imported are coordinate adjectives as they can exchange places, and the word and can replace the comma. The other two adjectives glass and wine are non-coordinate because and cannot be placed between them or between imported and glass.)
The funny, clumsy clown soon appeared, dressed in clothes with red and yellow polka dots
If adjectives in a sentence come after the verb be (is, are, etc.), the qualifier adjective (an adjective that qualifies the meaning of a noun and is accepted as part of the noun) will accompany the noun at the beginning of the sentence. The qualifier adjective does not need to be an adjective: summer, for example, in the following example sentences. More examples: garden gate, sandwich box, kitchen table, fish farm (all the words in bold are not adjectives; they are nouns but act as adjectives).
- Correct: This summer house is beautiful, small, 10-year-old, red-coloured, Russian designed and wooden.
- Incorrect: This house is beautiful, small, 10-year-old, red-coloured, Russian designed and wooden and summer.