by Kate Woodford
When we want to describe something, one adjective sometimes just isn’t enough! There may be two – or even three – things we want to say about something or someone. What order, then, do we put these two or three adjectives in? Consider the following:
He’s such a sweet little boy!
She seemed like a nice, polite girl.
It’s a really lovely, bright shade of blue.
There was a horrible, stale smell in there.
Notice the adjectives that are used first in each of these sentences – sweet, nice, lovely, horrible. They are all subjective descriptions – words that show our feelings or opinions about something. They do not actually tell us any precise facts about the boy, the girl, the shade of blue or the smell. They don’t, for example, tell us how big the children are or anything about the precise qualities of the shade of blue or the smell. These subjective adjectives, then, are the ones that go first. In other words, whatever your first feeling or opinion about something or someone, (Are they nice, nasty, gorgeous, unpleasant, etc.?), say this first!
Another way of thinking about this is that adjectives that are fairly general – that we can use to describe almost anything, (people, things, experiences, etc.) – go first.
There was a lovely, calm atmosphere.
It had a nasty, bitter taste.
It’s a nice, cosy room.
It was an awful, depressing film.
In all of these sentences, the second adjectives, (calm, bitter, cosy, depressing), are used for describing a much smaller range of nouns than the first, (lovely, nasty, nice, awful). This, then, is another useful rule to keep in mind – general adjectives before precise adjectives.
Every now and then, we want to use several precise, factual adjectives to describe something. Imagine, for example, that we are describing an item we have lost in a public place. We might want to say how big something is, what shape it is, what colour it is, etc. When native speakers of English do this, they often, more or less, follow a particular order that depends on the type of adjective. It is as follows:
That order, (which most native speakers of English are probably not even aware of), results in sentences like this:
It’s a small, rectangular, wooden box.
She’s bought a gorgeous, light-brown, Swedish sofa.
a stylish, black, woollen coat
Rather than trying to learn the order in which adjectives go, it may help to remember a few phrases such as these which illustrate the order.