Adjective Placement Patterns for English Learners

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. Such as: He's an interesting person. OR Jane is very tired. In other cases, more than one adjective might be used. Sometimes, three or even more adjectives are used! In this case, the adjectives need to follow a pattern based on the category  type of the adjective.

For example,

He's an excellent, older, Italian teacher.
I bought a huge, round, wooden table. 

Sometimes, more than one adjective is used to describe a noun. In this case, English speakers use a specific adjective order when placing each adjective. Each adjective is separated by a comma. For example:

He drives a big, expensive, German car.
Her employer is an interesting, old, Dutch man.

When using more than one adjective to describe a noun place the adjectives in the following order before the noun.

NOTE: We usually use no more than three adjectives preceding a noun.

  1. Opinion

    Example: an interesting book, a boring lecture

  2. Dimension

    Example: a big apple, a thin wallet

  3. Age

    Example: a new car, a modern building, an ancient ruin

  4. Shape

    Example: a square box, an oval mask, a round ball

  5. Color

    Example: a pink hat, a blue book, a black coat

  6. Origin

    Example: some Italian shoes, a Canadian town, an American car

  7. Material

    Example: a wooden box, a woolen sweater, a plastic toy

    Here are some examples of nouns modified with three adjectives in the correct order based on the list above. Notice that the adjectives are not separated by commas.

    • A wonderful old Italian clock. (opinion - age - origin)
    • A big square blue box. (dimension - shape - color)
    • A disgusting pink plastic ornament. (opinion - color - material)
    • Some slim new French trousers. (dimension - age - origin)

    Check your understanding of adjective placement with the following quiz on the next page.

    Place the three adjectives in the correct order before the noun. When you have decided on the correct order, click through to the next page to see if you have answered correctly.

    • 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

    Explanation of adjective placement

    • book interesting - small - Spanish

      ANSWER: an interesting small Spanish book

    • picture modern - ugly - rectangular

      ANSWER: an ugly modern rectangular picture

    • opinion old - boring - American

      ANSWER: a boring old American opinion

    • apple ripe - green - delicious

      ANSWER: a delicious ripe green apple

    • suit woolen - large - black

      ANSWER: a large black woolen suit

    • house beautiful - modern - small

      ANSWER: a beautiful small modern house

    • magazine German - slender - strange

      ANSWER: a strange slender German magazine

    • cap cotton - funny - green

      ANSWER: a funny green cotton cap

    If you had problems, make sure to go back to the first page and read through the explanation of adjective placement again.