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Native speakers of any language intuitively adopt many grammar rules without even realizing those rules exist. One such rule is the order of adjectives. Most native English speakers do not realize that sometimes you must put adjectives in a certain order, and other times you can choose your own adjective order. In English, there are two broad types of adjectives: cumulative adjectives and coordinate adjectives.

 

Cumulative Adjectives

Cumulative adjectives are not separated by commas and must be written in a specific order. For instance, you can say that your friend bought an “expensive red car” but not he or she bought a “red expensive car.” (While the latter would sound “wrong” to a native English speaker, he or she would probably not be able to tell you why.) The correct order for cumulative adjectives is determined by the categories and subcategories into which the adjectives fall. The following chart lists the correct order of cumulative adjective categories and provides several examples of each:

 

Opinion Appearance Age/Color Origin Material Noun Used as Adjective
beautiful

cheerful

expensive

interesting

poor

 

 

Size

big

little

small

 

Shape/Length

long

short

round

square

 

Condition

broken

rusty

Age

old

new

young

 

Color

black

blue

red

white

Nationality

Chinese

English

Italian

Spanish

 

Religion

Buddhist

Christian

Jewish

Muslim

gold

metal

plastic

silver

wood

fashion

soccer

wedding

 

            My friend bought an expensive red car.

 

            I met a beautiful young Spanish woman in my ESL class.

 

            The actress started her career as a model for a well-known French fashion designer.

 

            She found an old soccer ball in the back of her closet.

 

Coordinate Adjectives

Coordinate adjectives do not have to be written in a specific order and can have the word “and” placed between them. Any adjective that is not a cumulative adjective is, by default, a coordinate adjective. Coordinate adjectives should be separated from each other (but not the following noun) with commas:

 

The hungry and tired hikers were eager to set up camp for the night.

 

            We are looking for a smart, independent, experienced manager to lead the team.

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