Native English speakers don’t spend time thinking about why it’s “my old, brown, leather walking boots”, not “my walking, old, leather brown boots”. You just learn what sounds right and follow the rules without even knowing them. I only came across the rules during my teacher training!
However, if you’re learning English, it makes sense to have a look at these rules about adjectives because they will help you to put your words in the right order.
I also talked about this topic in episode 102 of my podcast.
Firstly, an adjective is a word that is used to describe something. Words such as big, hungry, tired, green, silver, and untidy.
The order of adjectives
Usually there are at most two or three adjectives before nouns and they are generally put in this order:
- Quantity – how many
- Opinion – subjective things like beautiful, friendly, argumentative
- Size – big small tall
- Shape – square, round
- Age – old/young or old/new
- colour – brown, pink, red, dark blue
- origin (for things) or nationality (for people) – English, Australian
- material – silver, wooden
- purpose – swimming costume, rowing machine, coffee cup
Sometimes age and colour are the other way round – not all of the lists on how to do this agree!
Sometimes the adjective has to stay with the noun such as “the golden retriever”. You can’t say (my golden, tired, old retriever”. It’s a golden retriever, or a curly-coat retriever, or a flat-coat retriever, and you can’t split these words up and put other adjectives in the gap.
So this is why we don’t talk about brown, walking, leather, old boots! It has to be my old (age) brown (colour) – leather (material) – walking + boots – these have to stay together like golden retriever.
I found a small, , round wooden box.
I want to buy those beautiful, antique silver earrings.
Is it ok to use the adjective?
Some adjectives that are used to give your opinion can be used for anything. Anything can be wonderful, horrible, excellent, awful or amazing! However, some can only be used for certain things. Your food can be delicious, but your lesson can’t. The neighbour’s dog can be friendly, but the weather and your new jacket can’t – because they’re not alive.