How To: Order of Adjectives In English


I didn’t know there is a specific order for adjectives in English until I had to translate my novel by myself. Let me show you what I learned.

You know it, but you didn’t know you knew it

As you may know, adjectives are words we use to describe qualities, quantities, or states of nouns and they are essential in creative writing. Most of the times, we use them to decorate our writing by adding more details about what we’re describing, but when we use a series of adjectives in a row, we could be making it wrong. English can be difficult sometimes, especially if you’re not a native speaker like me, but when you learn the correct grammatical structure of the language, things use to get easier. Working with adjectives can be seen as something simple and as easy as putting the adjectives before the noun in the sentence, right? Let me tell you, it’s not that easy.

I’ve been working on the translation of my novel The Hand of Madness by myself since I’m the do-it-yourself kind of person and because I thought this was a pretty good opportunity to learn more English and effectively it has been an endless cycle of learning.

I started to translate resorting to several grammar and translation tools to procure to do it correctly. Honestly, I didn’t know about this grammar rule until I found out about this on a post I saw on Reddit about a viral tweet showing how this structure is used in a paragraph from a book called The Elements of Eloquence.

I think the amazing and also funny thing about this fact was precisely to discover we somehow knew it all along and is that although I’m not a native English speaker I’m very familiar with the language and also this formula is almost the same for Spanish, my native language.

Adjectives used to denote attributes occur in a particular order, and as I said before, this is not an exclusive feature of the English language, but each language has its specific order for adjectives. Let me show you how this structure works and give you some tips and examples.

adjectives Word order

  1. Quantity or number

  2. Quality or opinion

  3. Size

  4. Age

  5. Shape

  6. Colour

  7. Proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin, or material)

  8. Purpose or qualifier

  9. Noun

Therefore, according to the previous rule, the right way to structure a sentence which contains more than one adjective including size, age, shape, etc. would be the following:

The two glorious larger old rectangular brown wooden dining tables were opposite.

Do you see it now? All you need to do is to learn that exact order or to keep it on hand for when you need it. I think it’s common to mess a little with this sometimes for, after all, we all make mistakes, so that’s why it doesn’t hurt whenever feasible to check you’re following these rules.

However, you may know that writers often resort to breaking the rules to achieve something specific cannot be communicated in any other way, and, as in most cases, there will be exceptions. You must remember language is a tool we use to tell stories in a unique style and not the way around, so we can adapt it according to our needs. The critical thing to remember is that to bend the rules you first ought to know them, and that’s why it’s essential to learn about these so that you can break them consciously and thus avoid any shameful mistake could cost you a reader.

Here’s an example of an exception for this rule:

His big, piercing eyes full of pride. [size-quality]

As you can see, according to the rule we’re exploring in this article, the adjective “big” should be after the quality “piercing”. However, in this case, the quality “piercing” is often used paired with the noun “eyes” for these are something knew as “collocations” which are two words that are distinguished because of their frequent use together, thus, if you say “His piercing big eyes full of pride” this will just sounds wrong for any native English speaker.

Here there is one more example of exceptions extracted from my own novel:

I heard you howling surrounded by coal-black, rocky pinnacles that rose above the sea. [colour-material]

And here there are more examples in which I actually applied the rule:

making the air bleed with the carmine of the tall sheer drapes billowing in the late afternoon zephyr. [size-material]

The oxblood silk sheets wavy as thought a sea in full red tide. [colour-material]

He is there, standing next to me, dressed in a thin white shirt with mandarin-collar. [quality-colour]

I'm in this unpolluted bedroom whose lighting comes from that suspension circular chandelier above me and the diaphanous frosted glass fenestrae on both sides of me. [quality-material]

Now that you got it, remember, it’s fundamental to keep this grammar rule in mind and try to memorise it if you can. There can be some variations of this same rule provided by other blogs in which more types of adjectives are added to the structure yet this one which I’ve provided you is the simplest and most basic and I hope this will do fine and will be useful to you.

Stay tuned for more tips, guides, and tools to improve your writing and make it easier for my aim is to help you to achieve your dream of becoming an author.

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