Adjective Order for Better Descriptions

In order to succeed in the IELTS exam, you wanted to show off your vocabulary. This means being specific and conveying your exact meaning. However, accuracy if very important. You need to be able to use the new vocabulary correctly, or it counts as an error. By now you probably know that a great way to make your English sound more specific and advanced is to couple adjectives and nouns:

Simple Example

Look at the following adjective + noun pairs:

red sweater

big chair

delicious food

Obviously that’s better than just saying the nouns alone, but sometimes we want to give more detail. Fortunately, in English you can link together long chains of adjectives to convey a very precise meaning. However, it’s not easy. You need to remember the order.

Adjective Order

For most English speakers, the following one of the following sentences makes perfect sense and the other sounds just plain bizarre:

a beautiful big round old black Italian wooden dining table

a black wooden round big Italian beautiful old dining table

Any native speaker will know that the second sentence sounds terrible – but why?

In English, when we put together lists of adjectives, they must follow a definite order. It goes like this:

opinion + size + shape + age + colour (or pattern) + origin + material + style (or purpose) + noun

That’s a lot to remember!

But don’t worry, most times you won’t need to use all of these adjectives at once. In fact, it does sound a bit ridiculous to use so many.

Adjective List Examples

Here are some more natural examples:

Opinion Size Shape Age Colour/ pattern Origin Material Style/ purpose Noun
cool   brown antique   French     wristwatch
  big   old spotted   leather   belt
  fat     green       parrot
scary     new   Korean     movie
  tall thin   bronze       man
favourite long         wooden-handled hunting knife

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Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel.

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