Adjectives describe nouns. Often, writers use only one adjective to describe a noun either by placing the adjective in front of the noun or by using a stative verb and placing the adjective at the end of the sentence, as in: "He's an interesting person," or, "Jane is very tired." Knowing where to place adjectives in relation to nouns is a key part of learning to speak and write English fluently.
In some cases, you might use more than one adjective-even as many as three or more-to describe a noun. In thee cases, the adjectives need to follow a pattern based on their type or category. In these and the following examples, adjectives are listed in italics.
- He's an excellent, older, Italian teacher.
- I bought a huge, round, wooden table.
When more than one adjective is used to describe a noun, English speakers use a specific adjective order when placing each adjective. If they do this in written form, they sometimes separate each adjective with a comma when the adjectives are coordinate, notes Purdue OWL. That is, they have equal weight and could be reversed without changing the meaning of the sentence, as in:
- He drives a big, expensive, German car.
- Her employer is an interesting, old, Dutch man.
In other cases, when using adjectives that are not coordinate to describe a noun, place the adjectives in the following order before the noun.
- Opinion: an interesting book; a boring lecture
- Dimension: a big apple; a thin wallet
- Age: a new car; a modern building; an ancient ruin
- Shape: a square box; an oval mask; a round ball
- Color: a pink hat; a blue book; a black coat
- Origin: Italian shoes; a Canadian town; an American car
- Material: a wooden box; a woolen sweater; a plastic toy
These examples of nouns modified with three adjectives in the correct order follow the explanations from the previous section. Notice that in the sentences, adjectives are not separated by commas. The types of adjectives are listed in parentheses and in order following each example.
- A wonderful old Italian clock (opinion - age - origin)
- A big square blue box (dimension - shape - color)
- A disgusting pink plastic ornament (opinion - color - material)
- Slim new French trousers (dimension - age - origin)
Once you've reviewed adjective placement, have students check their understanding by placing the three listed adjectives in the correct order before the noun. The noun is listed on the left, followed by a colon and then the three adjectives. The correct answers follow the quiz questions.
- Book: interesting - small - Spanish
- Picture: modern - ugly - rectangular
- Opinion: old - boring - American
- Apple: ripe - green - delicious
- Suit: woolen - large - black
- House: beautiful - modern - small
- Magazine: German - slender - strange
- Cap: cotton - funny - green
When students have completed the quiz, review the correct answers with them.
- An interesting small Spanish book
- An ugly modern rectangular picture
- A boring old American opinion
- A delicious ripe green apple
- A large black woolen suit
- A beautiful small modern house
- A strange slender German magazine
- A funny green cotton cap
If students struggle to answer correctly, review the correct placement of adjectives as discussed previously.