The order of English adjectives

I have just discovered this reference about the order of adjectives when using multiple adjectives to add information to a noun.

It’s fascinating information and something I’ve never been aware of.

Out of curiosity, it’s interesting to see what happens when the above order is played around with.

Consider this sequence of adjectives that describes an old lady.

“She is a happy old white-haired indigenous Australian woman.”

The adjectives are…
happy = “opinion”
old = “age”
white-haired = a compound variation of “colour”
indigenous Australian = compound variation of “origin”

That means that this sentence follows the given order. It makes perfect sense to me. If I change the order of the adjectives though…

“She is an indigenous Australian old white-haired happy woman.”

This now lacks clarity to me. To rectify this I would need to rewrite it as something like the below where commas and “and” separate the adjectives and turn them into items in a list that attaches to “happy woman”.

She is an indigenous Australian and an old, white-haired, happy woman.
or maybe…
She is an indigenous Australian, old, white-haired, happy woman.

The commas are literally replacements for “and”.
She is an indigenous Australian and old and white-haired and a happy woman.

This information about adjectival order is eye-opening for me.


Fascinating. “Things I knew but didn’t know I knew.”


This is what I have in my resource document. Yes, opinion comes before facts, but there is an order in that too: first the general/accepted opinion and then your personal opinion

It is very unusual to have more than three adjectives. If we don’t want to emphasise any one of the adjectives, the most usual sequence of adjectives is:

  1. General opinion 2) Specific opinion 3) Size 4) Shape 5) Age 6) Colour 7) Nationality 8) Material

A more detailed list:

  • 1 opinion (unusual, lovely, beautiful, horrible, delicious)
  • 2 size (big, small, tall)
  • 3 physical quality (thin, rough, untidy)
  • 4 shape (round, square, rectangular)
  • 5 age (young, old, youthful, 14-year-old)
  • 6 colour (blue, red, pink)
  • 7 origin (Dutch, Japanese, Turkish)
  • 8 material (metal, wood, plastic)
  • 9 type (general-purpose, four-sided, U-shaped)
  • 10 purpose (cleaning, hammering, cooking)

It was made of a strange, green, metallic material.
It’s a long, narrow, plastic brush.
Panettone is a round, Italian, bread-like Christmas cake.
She was a beautiful, tall, thin, young, black-haired Scottish woman.
What an amazing little old, Chinese cup and saucer!
They have a lovely old red post-box.
The playroom has six small round plastic tables.
I bought some charming Victorian silver ornaments at the flea market.
She is selling her flashy 3-year-old Italian car.
It was a beautiful cold day.
The company started marketing the mass-produced in 1905 invented in 1913 patented safety requirement meeting state-of-the-art automatic electrical small nasal hair trimmer [UGH!]

Comment by someone:
Adjective order is somewhat flexible in English and there may be some variation – this is why we say adjectives usually come in the order given, not always.
The ‘rule’ is rather more sophisticated and flexible than the article suggests. It’s not so much that the adjectives absolutely can’t be used out of order, but more that a comfortable and expected order generally exists, and to place a word in a fashion that violates that order is to throw marked attention in its direction.
Also, there are some very common adjectives that can slip up and down the order more easily than others.


Hi Irmar.

Thanks for that information. It’s great :slight_smile: In all my years, I have never come across anything like this. My first encounter with this knowledge was earlier today with the list that I posted, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

“[UGH]” indeed!!!

It’s definitely true that order for some things has room for movement. Mostly, though, the order in that sequence of yours is spot on.

That’s for taking the time to share you insight with me.


It’s not just native speakers who do this automatically right. I have come across this list before, but only in recent years. As far as I recall, we never specifically learned this in high school and I guess it would have been a pain. With enough exposure to the language, like reading, even non-natives can develop a feel for it.