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How to Put Cumulative Adjectives in Order

Adjectives are fantastic!

They make our sentences more interesting by describing nouns and pronouns. 

So, in the sentence, “I have a blue car,” blue is an adjective describing the noun car

But adjectives are also confusing! What if you want to use more than one word to describe your car? Which adjective goes first? 

If you ask a native English speaker, they might tell you, “Just say what sounds right.” That’s not easy, though—what makes something sound right?

The order of cumulative adjectives

The adjectives we’re talking about here are called cumulative adjectives. They go in a specific order and build on one another. Because they’re in a set sequence (and not just in a random grouping), cumulative adjectives don’t require commas to separate them.

Here’s how you should order cumulative adjectives:

1. Opinion

Opinion words go first. These are words that aren’t facts, like excellent, scary, boring, and cute.

2. Size

Size can be specific, like 60-square-metre, or more general, like tiny, small, tall, and big.

3. Physical quality

This category is for describing something physically when it doesn’t fit into the other groups: rough, strong, dusty, and oily, for example. 

4. Shape

Shapes include round, square, oval, and rectangular.

5. Age

This can be a number (like 6-year-old), but can also be less specific, such as old, young, new, and ancient.

6. Colour

The colour of your adjective goes here: brown, purple, greenish, blue-grey. 

7. Origin

“Origin” means where something comes from. Some examples are Japanese, Australian, Canadian, and Russian.

8. Material

What is the object made of? This category includes things like wooden, metal, plastic, and cotton.

9. Type

If the item you’re describing has a specific type or style, the adjective would go here. These are words like four-wheeled, two-level, academic, or electric.

10. Purpose

This is for things whose names include a specific purpose (e.g., dancing shoes: dancing is the purpose). Some examples of purpose are running (shoes), watering (can), and sleeping (bag). 

In general, it’s uncommon to use more than three adjectives at one time (so the following examples might look a little weird). Even so, let’s see how all of these cumulative adjectives would work together!

  • strange (opinion)
  • strange enormous (size)
  • strange enormous messy (physical quality)
  • strange enormous messy rectangular (shape)
  • strange enormous messy rectangular old (age)
  • strange enormous messy rectangular old brown (colour)
  • strange enormous messy rectangular old brown French (origin)
  • strange enormous messy rectangular old brown French brick (material)
  • strange enormous messy rectangular old brown French brick two-level (type)
  • strange enormous messy rectangular old brown French brick two-level vacation (purpose) 
  • strange enormous messy square old brown French brick two-level vacation house (noun being described)

Now, let’s put it all into a sentence:

She’s staying in a strange enormous messy rectangular old brown French brick two-level vacation house. 

Exceptions

→ The order of words can be changed if there’s a certain word you want to emphasize.

My teacher is OLD and boring! (Normally, boring would be first because it’s an opinion, but you’re focusing on old here.)

→ Sometimes, adjective order doesn’t seem to follow the rules. For example, even though opinion (beautiful) should come before size (big), you might hear something like: a big, beautiful tree.

Conclusion

If adjective word order seems confusing, don’t worry! Just follow the rules we’ve discussed, and soon, the words will just sound right to you!

Andrea is a Gabby Academy coach and education technolgy writer based in Vancouver, Canada.