We say, for example, "a small, blue car" rather than "a blue, small car".
Grammar[edit | edit source]
Adjectives categorically describe at least one of ten different qualities of a noun they modify. The qualities they can describe are opinion, size, physical quality, shape, age, colour, origin, material, type and purpose. Various pedagogic grammar analysis, particularly those online, may omit some of those categories or combine them. Nevertheless, the order that adjectives take, within a adjective phrase before a head noun, depends upon the quality they describe. The order that adjectives usually follow is:
|Quality||Examples of Adjectives|
|2||Size||big, small, large|
|4||Shape||round, square, flat|
|6||Colour||blue, green, yellow|
|7||Origin||Chinese, French, oriental|
|8||Material||metal, plastic, silk, wooden|
|10||Purpose||ironing, racing, medical, pedagogic,|
When more than one adjective describes a quality, then the order of those adjectives doesn't usually matter, e.g. "a blue and white car" or "a white and blue car". It's also possible to use words to modify the meaning of adjectives, e.g "very small" and "light blue"; then adjective order applies to the adjective phrases e.g "a very small, light blue car"
Prevalence[edit | edit source]
Native English speakers have implicit knowledge of this rule yet are often amazed by their knowledge once it's pointed out to them. However, English speakers tend not to use more than three adjectives before a noun, preferring to use a relative clause to add more description.
There are also some colloquial exceptions to adjective order such as in the noun phrase 'the big, bad wolf'
Pedagogy[edit | edit source]
Understanding adjective order requires the recognition of qualities that are described by adjectives. Before teaching adjective order, it might be helpful to teach enough vocabulary to distinguish those qualities. Teaching clusters of adjectives that share semantic category in a series of lessons, before mixing the vocabulary and teaching adjective order is one way to provide scaffolding.
Strategies for learning adjective order include word ordering activities and recitation of adjective order.