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Classroom Handout: The Order of Descriptive Adjectives

in Grammar

There are six common types of descriptive adjectives.

  • age
  • size
  • material
  • shape
  • colour
  • nationality

What is the correct order of these adjectives?

Opinion adjectives (e.g. beautiful, fantastic, terrible etc.) precede descriptive adjectives.

Be a deductive language detective and use your deductive reasoning to find out what the correct order of these six descriptive adjectives is: Read the following dialogue where two friends comment on the contents of their rich friend's house. Opinion adjectives are in italics and all descriptive adjectives are in bold print.

  • A: David really has a nice big house!
  • B: He sure does. And I like the beautiful red wooden door with that old yellow bell.
  • A: Did you see the big round Indonesian teak table in his study?
  • B: Do you mean that big old black table?
  • A: Yes, that one. Isn't it nice?
  • B: No, I think it's just an enormous old round thing. I prefer that small round red table he has in the kitchen. The plastic one.
  • A: No, I think red plastic looks cheap*.
    (* cheap in this case is used as an opinion adjective.)
  • B: But you can't say that the elegant big crystal table he has in the dining room isn't nice, can you?
  • A: Oh, that round Italian crystal table? Beautiful!
  • B: And what a wonderful green Italian leather sofa!
  • A: That long green couch? No, I didn't like it - too green! But I did like the small modern red chairs he has. Adds a very nice touch.
  • B: Those round red plastic chairs? I thought you didn't like red plastic.
  • A: But those are nice. Let's say that it's wonderful to have enough money to buy small red French plastic chairs, isn't it?

How good a language detective are you?

What is the correct order of these six categories of descriptive adjectives?

  • A. colour - material - size - age - shape - nationality
  • B. shape - colour - size - material - nationality - age
  • C. size - shape - colour - age - material - nationality
  • D. shape - size - colour - nationality - material - age
  • E. size - age - shape - colour - nationality - material
  • F. age - size - shape - colour - nationality - material

Additional Notes about Descriptive Adjectives

I) Another way to remember the order of descriptive adjectives is that they usually go from more general to more specific adjectives, or from an adjective which can describe more items to one which describes a more limited number of items.

  • For example, another category of descriptive adjectives is function which is more specific than most of the other descriptive adjectives. Where would you put the function of dining in the list of adjectives which describe a table: Italian, antique, wooden,?

II) Now try these, remembering that opinion adjectives come first, then the descriptive adjectives in the order you found above:

  1. We bought a [lovely comfortable / comfortable lovely] sofa.
  2. She was wearing a [clean nice / nice clean shirt] with [red leather / leather red] shoes.
  3. Their house was [big and tidy / tidy and big].
  4. Did you see the [Italian new / new Italian] film.
  5. She has ____ ______ ____curtains in her living room.
    brown, ugly, polyester.

III) We also place comparative and superlative adjectives before other types of adjectives:

  • If you want the most wonderful home-cooked food, you should go to Mark's house. His mother is the best Italian cook I know.

Now Try These

  1. Maria has ______ ________ _________ ________ hair
    false, black, beautiful, thick
  2. I saw the _______ ________ ________ table this morning.
    wooden, most ugly, round
  3. She looks so elegant in her ________ _______ ________ coat.
    wool, Italian, long
  4. That is the _________ ________ _________ sculpture in this museum.
    metal, most unusual, modern
  5. They bought a lot of ________ ________ ________ furniture on the trip.
    Indian, antique, interesting

The Answers

If you, Language-Sherlock, chose the fifth order, you are right!

Additional exercises:
I. Hopefully, you would say antique, Italian, wooden, dining table.

II. 1. lovely comfortable sofa; 2. nice clean shirt with red leather shoes; 3. big and tidy; 4. the new Italian film; 5. ugly brown polyester curtains

III. 1. beautiful, thick, black, false; 2. most ugly round wooden; 3, long Italian wool; 4. most unusual modern metal; 5. interesting antique Indian.