There is a finite methodology to the order of words that spill effortlessly out of your mouth. When it comes to a string of adjectives, when it’s wrong, it can just sound weird to the native speaker. And it’s not just the preference of style or fashion. Since those sentence-diagramming lessons (for those of us that had them) might be blocked out of your memories, here’s a quick refresher.
I present to you…
The Royal Order of Adjectives Fantasticus*
- Determiner – articles (e.g., “a” or “an”), possessive pronouns (e.g., “his” or “her”), amount (e.g., “four” or “number of” or “some”)
- Opinionated descriptors (e.g. “lovely,” “delicious,” “worn-out,” “hard-working,” or “dreamy”)
- Size – (e.g., “big,” “small,” “pint-sized,” “fatter,” or “shortest”)
- Shape (e.g., “oval-shaped” or “square”)
- Age (e.g., “elderly” or “six-year-old”)
- Color (e.g., “lime-green” or “fuscia”)
- Origin (e.g., “American” or “Ukrainian”)
- Religion (e.g., “Christian” or “Buddhist)
- Material (e.g. “wooden” or “metal”)
- Noun acting as an adjective (e.g., “school” in “school bus” or “office” in “office chair”)
- The noun that all of this modifies
Whoa. Did you see that coming? And to think, while you might not be able to recite this order off-hand, your ear is already largely tuned for this. Pretty cool, no?
Keeping in mind that a noun with ten adjectives attached will sound pretty awkward, let’s try it out with some smaller combinations. Excited? I know you are.
Correct: These ridiculous old English grammar rules are perhaps a bit confusing.
Correct: The quick little brown fox jumps over the lazy wooden dog.
(Try these adjectives in any other order. It sounds odd, doesn’t it?)
We speak and write English every day. Some rules just come naturally at this point, but if you have ever wondered if there is indeed a correct order, the answer is most definitely yes.
*”The Royal Order of Adjectives Fantasticus” is my own title, nothing that comes with its own official seal… though, it might be worth creating, no?