In many languages, attributive adjectives usually occur in a specific order. The adjective order in English is generally;
So, in English, adjectives pertaining to size precede adjectives pertaining to age ("little old", not "old little"), which in turn generally precede adjectives pertaining to color ("old white", not "white old"). So, we would say "A nice (opinion) little (size) old (age) white (color) brick (material) house". However, some native speakers will say, "a big, ugly desk" (size, opinion) instead of "an ugly, big desk" (opinion, size), for example.
This order may be more rigid in some languages than others; in some, like Spanish, it may only be a default (unmarked) word order, with other orders being permissible to shift the emphasis.
1. Opinion or judgment -- beautiful, ugly, easy, fast, interesting
2. Size -- small, tall, short, big
3. Age -- young, old, new, historic, ancient
4. Shape -- round, square, rectangular
5. Color -- red, black, green, purple
6. Nationality -- French, Asian, American, Canadian, Japanese
7. Material -- wooden, metallic, plastic, glass, paper
8. Purpose or Qualifier -- foldout sofa, fishing boat, racing car
So: the "beautiful long curved old red Italian steel racing car"
Take care when applying the rule to categorise the adjectives correctly. For example, "The old rotund man read a short old story about an ugly big bear" seems to follow the rules, yet sounds wrong. In this case, "old" and "short" are qualifiers, not merely size or age designations, because "old man" is a social concept on its own, and "short story" is a genre. And "big ugly" is a "commonplace term".
Use the positive form of the adjective if the comparison contains one of the following expressions:
as … as
Example: Jane is as tall as John.
not as … as / not so … as
Example: John is not as tall as Arnie.
Comparative Form and Superlative Form (-er/-est)
one-syllable adjectives (clean, new, cheap)
two-syllable adjectives ending in -y or -er (easy, happy, pretty, dirty, clever)
positive form comparative form superlative form
clean cleaner (the) cleanest
Exceptions in spelling when adding -er / -est
silent ‘e’ is dropped
final ‘y’ after a consonant becomes i
final consonant after short, stressed vowel is doubled
Comparative Form and Superlative Form (more/most)
adjectives of three or more syllables (and two-syllable adjectives not ending in -y/-er)
positive form comparative form superlative form
difficult more difficult most difficult
Comparative Form and Superlative Form (irregular comparisons)
positive form comparative form superlative form
good better best
bad / ill worse worst
little (amount) less least
little (size) smaller smallest
much / many more Most
far (place + time) further Furthest
far (place) farther Farthest
late (time) later Latest
late (order) latter Last
near (place) nearer Nearest
near (order) - next
old (people and things) older oldest
old (people) elder eldest
Adjective or Adverb
Adjectives are used to modify nouns:
The dog is loud.
Adverbs are used to modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs:
The dog barks loudly.
verb used with an adjective used with an adverb
look look good (= appearance) look well (= healthy)
feel feel good (= state of health/mind) feel well (= have a good sense of touch)
smell smell good (= odor) smell well (= have a good sense of smell)
taste taste good (= preference) taste well (= have a good sense of taste)
The following verbs can only be used with adjectives:
Niagara Falls is a group of waterfalls on the border between the United States and Canada. The Falls are a favorite tourist attraction. The Niagara River drops here and although the Falls are not deep, they are very wide and the amount of water is enormous. So it is very noisy near the Falls. That's why the Iroquois (Indianerstamm) tribe, who used to live here, called the falls Niagara (meaning “thunder of waters”).
1. Niagara Falls form a____________ border between the United States and Canada.
2. Tourists visit this place ____________ .
3. The Falls are very ____________ .
4. So you must speak _____________ or nobody can understand you.
5. Many years ago, the Iroquois tribe lived here _____________ .
He remembered yet the East India Tea House at the Fair, the sandalwood, the turbans, and the robes, the cool interior and the smell of India tea; and he had felt now the nostalgic thrill of dew-wet mornings in Spring, the cherry scent, the cool clarion earth, the wet loaminess of the garden, the pungent breakfast smells and the floating snow of blossoms. He knew the inchoate sharp excitement of hot dandelions in young earth; in July, of watermelons bedded in sweet hay, inside a farmer's covered wagon; of cantaloupe and crated peaches; and the scent of orange rind, bitter-sweet, before a fire of coals. He knew the good male smell of his father's sitting-room; of the smooth worn leather sofa, with the gaping horse-hair rent; of the blistered varnished wood upon the hearth; of the heated calf-skin bindings; of the flat moist plug of apple tobacco, stuck with a red flag; of wood-smoke and burnt leaves in October; of the brown tired autumn earth; of honey-suckle at night; of warm nasturtiums, of a clean ruddy farmer who comes weekly with printed butter, eggs, and milk; of fat limp underdone bacon and of coffee; of a bakery-oven in the wind; of large deep-hued stringbeans smoking-hot and seasoned well with salt and butter; of a room of old pine boards in which books and carpets have been stored, long closed; of Concord grapes in their long white baskets.
absolute impossible principal
adequate inevitable stationary
chief irrevocable sufficient
complete main unanimous
devoid manifest unavoidable
entire minor unbroken
fatal paramount unique
final perpetual universal
ideal preferable whole
***Both adverbs and adjectives in their comparative and superlative forms can be accompanied by premodifiers, single words and phrases, that intensify the degree.
• We were a lot more careful this time.
• He works a lot less carefully than the other jeweler in town.
• We like his work so much better.
• You'll get your watch back all the faster.
The same process can be used to downplay the degree:
• The weather this week has been somewhat better.
• He approaches his schoolwork a little less industriously than his brother does.
And sometimes a set phrase, usually an informal noun phrase, is used for this purpose:
• He arrived a whole lot sooner than we expected.
• That's a heck of a lot better.
If the intensifier very accompanies the superlative, a determiner is also required:
• She is wearing her very finest outfit for the interview.
• They're doing the very best they can.
Occasionally, the comparative or superlative form appears with a determiner and the thing being modified is understood:
• Of all the wines produced in Connecticut, I like this one the most.
• The quicker you finish this project, the better.
• Of the two brothers, he is by far the faster.
Authority for this section: A University Grammar of English by Randolph Quirk and Sidney Greenbaum. Longman Group: Essex, England. 1993. Used with permission.
Less versus Fewer
When making a comparison between quantities we often have to make a choice between the words fewer and less. Generally, when we're talking about countable things, we use the word fewer; when we're talking about measurable quantities that we cannot count, we use the word less. "She had fewer chores, but she also had less energy." The managers at our local Stop & Shop seem to have mastered this: they've changed the signs at the so-called express lanes from "Twelve Items or Less" to "Twelve Items or Fewer." Whether that's an actual improvement, we'll leave up to you.
We do, however, definitely use less when referring to statistical or numerical expressions:
• It's less than twenty miles to Dallas.
• He's less than six feet tall.
• Your essay should be a thousand words or less.
• We spent less than forty dollars on our trip.
• The town spent less than four percent of its budget on snow removal.
In these situations, it's possible to regard the quantities as sums of countable measures.
Taller than I / me ??
When making a comparison with "than" do we end with a subject form or object form, "taller than I/she" or "taller than me/her." The correct response is "taller than I/she." We are looking for the subject form: "He is taller than I am/she is tall." (Except we leave out the verb in the second clause, "am" or "is.") Some good writers, however, will argue that the word "than" should be allowed to function as a preposition. If we can say "He is tall like me/her," then (if "than" could be prepositional like like) we should be able to say, "He is taller than me/her." It's an interesting argument, but — for now, anyway — in formal, academic prose, use the subject form in such comparisons.
We also want to be careful in a sentence such as "I like him better than she/her." The "she" would mean that you like this person better than she likes him; the "her" would mean that you like this male person better than you like that female person. (To avoid ambiguity and the slippery use of than, we could write "I like him better than she does" or "I like him better than I like her.")
More than / over ??
In the United States, we usually use "more than" in countable numerical expressions meaning "in excess of" or "over." In England, there is no such distinction. For instance, in the U.S., some editors would insist on "more than 40,000 traffic deaths in one year," whereas in the UK, "over 40,000 traffic deaths" would be acceptable. Even in the U.S., however, you will commonly hear "over" in numerical expressions of age, time, or height: "His sister is over forty; she's over six feet tall. We've been waiting well over two hours for her."
The Order of Adjectives in a Series
It would take a linguistic philosopher to explain why we say "little brown house" and not "brown little house" or why we say "red Italian sports car" and not "Italian red sports car." The order in which adjectives in a series sort themselves out is perplexing for people learning English as a second language. Most other languages dictate a similar order, but not necessarily the same order. It takes a lot of practice with a language before this order becomes instinctive, because the order often seems quite arbitrary (if not downright capricious). There is, however, a pattern. You will find many exceptions to the pattern in the table below, but it is definitely important to learn the pattern of adjective order if it is not part of what you naturally bring to the language.
The categories in the following table can be described as follows:
I. Determiners — articles and other limiters. See Determiners
II. Observation — postdeterminers and limiter adjectives (e.g., a real hero, a perfect idiot) and adjectives subject to subjective measure (e.g., beautiful, interesting)
III. Size and Shape — adjectives subject to objective measure (e.g., wealthy, large, round)
IV. Age — adjectives denoting age (e.g., young, old, new, ancient)
V. Color — adjectives denoting color (e.g., red, black, pale)
VI. Origin — denominal adjectives denoting source of noun (e.g., French, American, Canadian)
VII. Material — denominal adjectives denoting what something is made of (e.g., woolen, metallic, wooden)
VIII. Qualifier — final limiter, often regarded as part of the noun (e.g., rocking chair, hunting cabin, passenger car, book cover)
THE ROYAL ORDER OF ADJECTIVES
Determiner Observation Physical Description Origin Material Qualifier Noun
Size Shape Age Color
a beautiful old Italian touring car
an expensive antique silver mirror
four gorgeous long-
stemmed red silk roses
her short black hair
our big old English sheepdog
those square wooden hat boxes
that dilapidated little hunting cabin
several enormous young American basketball players
some delicious Thai food
This chart is probably too wide to print on a standard piece of paper. If you click HERE, you will get a one-page duplicate of this chart, which you can print out on a regular piece of paper.
It would be folly, of course, to run more than two or three (at the most) adjectives together. Furthermore, when adjectives belong to the same class, they become what we call coordinated adjectives, and you will want to put a comma between them: the inexpensive, comfortable shoes. The rule for inserting the comma works this way: if you could have inserted a conjunction — and or but — between the two adjectives, use a comma. We could say these are "inexpensive but comfortable shoes," so we would use a comma between them (when the "but" isn't there). When you have three coordinated adjectives, separate them all with commas, but don't insert a comma between the last adjective and the noun (in spite of the temptation to do so because you often pause there):
a popular, respected, and good looking student
See the section on Commas for additional help in punctuating coordinated adjectives.
Capitalizing Proper Adjectives
When an adjective owes its origins to a proper noun, it should probably be capitalized. Thus we write about Christian music, French fries, the English Parliament, the Ming Dynasty, a Faulknerian style, Jeffersonian democracy. Some periods of time have taken on the status of proper adjectives: the Nixon era, a Renaissance/Romantic/Victorian poet (but a contemporary novelist and medieval writer). Directional and seasonal adjectives are not capitalized unless they're part of a title:
We took the northwest route during the spring thaw. We stayed there until the town's annual Fall Festival of Small Appliances.
See the section on Capitalization for further help on this matter.
When the definite article, the, is combined with an adjective describing a class or group of people, the resulting phrase can act as a noun: the poor, the rich, the oppressed, the homeless, the lonely, the unlettered, the unwashed, the gathered, the dear departed. The difference between a Collective Noun (which is usually regarded as singular but which can be plural in certain contexts) and a collective adjective is that the latter is always plural and requires a plural verb:
• The rural poor have been ignored by the media.
• The rich of Connecticut are responsible.
• The elderly are beginning to demand their rights.
• The young at heart are always a joy to be around.
The opposite or the negative aspect of an adjective can be formed in a number of ways. One way, of course, is to find an adjective to mean the opposite — an antonym. The opposite of beautiful is ugly, the opposite of tall is short. A thesaurus can help you find an appropriate opposite. Another way to form the opposite of an adjective is with a number of prefixes. The opposite of fortunate is unfortunate, the opposite of prudent is imprudent, the opposite of considerate is inconsiderate, the opposite of honorable is dishonorable, the opposite of alcoholic is nonalcoholic, the opposite of being properly filed is misfiled. If you are not sure of the spelling of adjectives modified in this way by prefixes (or which is the appropriate prefix), you will have to consult a dictionary, as the rules for the selection of a prefix are complex and too shifty to be trusted. The meaning itself can be tricky; for instance, flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.
A third means for creating the opposite of an adjective is to combine it with less or least to create a comparison which points in the opposite direction. Interesting shades of meaning and tone become available with this usage. It is kinder to say that "This is the least beautiful city in the state." than it is to say that "This is the ugliest city in the state." (It also has a slightly different meaning.) A candidate for a job can still be worthy and yet be "less worthy of consideration" than another candidate. It's probably not a good idea to use this construction with an adjective that is already a negative: "He is less unlucky than his brother," although that is not the same thing as saying he is luckier than his brother. Use the comparative less when the comparison is between two things or people; use the superlative least when the comparison is among many things or people.
• My mother is less patient than my father.
• Of all the new sitcoms, this is my least favorite show.
Some Adjectival Problem Children
Good versus Well
In both casual speech and formal writing, we frequently have to choose between the adjective good and the adverb well. With most verbs, there is no contest: when modifying a verb, use the adverb.
He swims well.
He knows only too well who the murderer is.
However, when using a linking verb or a verb that has to do with the five human senses, you want to use the adjective instead.
How are you? I'm feeling good, thank you.
After a bath, the baby smells so good.
Even after my careful paint job, this room doesn't look good.
Many careful writers, however, will use well after linking verbs relating to health, and this is perfectly all right. In fact, to say that you are good or that you feel good usually implies not only that you're OK physically but also that your spirits are high.
"How are you?"
"I am well, thank you."
Bad versus Badly
When your cat died (assuming you loved your cat), did you feel bad or badly? Applying the same rule that applies to good versus well, use the adjective form after verbs that have to do with human feelings. You felt bad. If you said you felt badly, it would mean that something was wrong with your faculties for feeling.
Other Adjectival Considerations
Review the section on Compound Nouns and Modifiers for the formation of modifiers created when words are connected: a four-year-old child, a nineteenth-century novel, an empty-headed fool.
Review the section on Possessives for a distinction between possessive forms and "adjectival labels." (Do you belong to a Writers Club or a Writers' Club?)
Adjectives that are really Participles, verb forms with -ing and -ed endings, can be troublesome for some students. It is one thing to be a frightened child; it is an altogether different matter to be a frightening child. Do you want to go up to your professor after class and say that you are confused or that you are confusing? Generally, the -ed ending means that the noun so described ("you") has a passive relationship with something — something (the subject matter, the presentation) has bewildered you and you are confused. The -ing ending means that the noun described has a more active role — you are not making any sense so you are confusing (to others, including your professor).
The -ed ending modifiers are often accompanied by prepositions (these are not the only choices):
• We were amazed at all the circus animals.
• We were amused by the clowns.
• We were annoyed by the elephants.
• We were bored by the ringmaster.
• We were confused by the noise.
• We were disappointed by the motorcycle daredevils.
• We were disappointed in their performance.
• We were embarrassed by my brother.
• We were exhausted from all the excitement.
• We were excited by the lion-tamer.
• We were excited about the high-wire act, too.
• We were frightened by the lions.
• We were introduced to the ringmaster.
• We were interested in the tent.
• We were irritated by the heat.
• We were opposed to leaving early.
• We were satisfied with the circus.
• We were shocked at the level of noise under the big tent.
• We were surprised by the fans' response.
• We were surprised at their indifference.
• We were tired of all the lights after a while.
• We were worried about the traffic leaving the parking lot.
The most common of the so-called a- adjectives are ablaze, afloat, afraid, aghast, alert, alike, alive, alone, aloof, ashamed, asleep, averse, awake, aware. These adjectives will primarily show up as predicate adjectives (i.e., they come after a linking verb).
• The children were ashamed.
• The professor remained aloof.
• The trees were ablaze.
Occasionally, however, you will find a- adjectives before the word they modify: the alert patient, the aloof physician. Most of them, when found before the word they modify, are themselves modified: the nearly awake student, the terribly alone scholar. And a- adjectives are sometimes modified by "very much": very much afraid, very much alone, very much ashamed, etc.
1. Niagara Falls form a natural border between the United States and Canada.
2. Tourists visit this place frequently .
3. The Falls are very noisy .
4. So you must speak loudly or nobody can understand you.
5. Many years ago, the Iroquois tribe lived here peacefully .