Multiple Adjective Order And Comma Use
Multiple adjectives can be used to describe a noun. When doing so there is a particular order that the adjectives must follow. Along with the order, there are rules for the use of commas as well. Most native English speakers do not understand or follow these rules, but these rules should be followed.
The order when using multiple adjectives is:
- Opinion: beautiful, interesting, intelligent, unsightly, ugly, good, bad
- Size: big, small, large, long, short, tall
- Shape: round, square, triangular, rectangular, oblong
- Condition: rusty, broken, ripe, rotten, bruised, chipped
- Age: young, old, middle-aged, elderly, brand-new, teenage
- Color: blue, black, red, green, purple, pink
- Origin: American, French, Spanish, nuclear, molecular, northern, southern
- Material: aluminum, wooden, silk, fabric, cloth, cotton, plastic, satin, leather, metal
- Purpose(Function): wireless, remote, walking, racing, military, off-road
Note that there are other smaller categories under some of the main categories above. Follow the order listed to properly order adjectives in sentences and when speaking.
Here are a few examples:
- A beautiful, young French woman. Order: opinion – age – origin
- The small, oval, black table. Order: size – shape – color
- My cute, little, red leather handbag. Order: opinion – size – color – material
- Our big, old northern house. Order: size – age – origin
Using Commas With Adjectives
In the examples above commas were used for some sentences and for others they were not. Even when they were used, it was hard to see the pattern. It can be difficult to understand when to use a comma and when not to.
The basic rule for using a comma between adjectives is:
- You can replace the comma with an “and”
- You are able to switch the order of the adjectives without changing the meaning of the sentence
If one ignores the rule for the adjective order, it is easier to see how the order can be switched, without changing the meaning of the sentence. An “and” can easily be added as well.
Cumulative and Coordinate Adjectives
The technical terms to keep in mind are cumulative adjectives and coordinate adjectives. Do not use a comma with cumulative adjectives, since the first adjective modifies the combination of the second adjective and the noun. Here are a few examples:
- We road in the back of the big English car. Cumulative adjectives since big modifies the combination of English car.
- She loved the fast, sporty car. Coordinate adjectives since you can put an and between them, and you can change the order of them as well.
As stated, this can be confusing at times. With practice and over time students learn when and when not to use commas when using multiple adjectives.
Another thing to look at with cumulative and coordinate adjectives is when you have them mixed together in a sentence. This makes it to where there can be a comma with one set of adjectives in a row while the other set might not need a comma. Look at the following examples:
- We went to the wild, huge summer festival. The first two are coordinate adjectives and the second two are cumulative adjectives.
- Jennifer is a friendly, tall Spanish woman. The first two are coordinate adjectives and the second two are cumulative adjectives.