Grammar Arranging Multiple Adjectives |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Arranging Multiple Adjectives

We know an adjective is a word that describes or modifies a noun. We also know that in English adjectives almost always precede their noun, unlike languages such as Spanish and French, in which adjectives more commonly can be placed either before or after a noun depending on their function or emphasis.

Understanding adjectives’ position in a sentence, how then do we order them when several are strung together?

If working with only two adjectives, many of us will follow our instincts and preferences. For example, if we write a phrase such as the black, round talisman, we lead with the color to emphasize it. If we write the round, black talisman, we aim to stress its shape.

When we move up to three adjectives before a noun, descriptions start to either lose or seek their place in line. For instance, would we write the Swedish, square, delicious dessert or the delicious, square, Swedish dessert?

The good news is English offers direction on adjective sequencing. We researched multiple sources for such grammatical guidance. They are not uniform in their suggested order of adjectives, but they provide almost the same components with only a few variances in arrangement and labeling.

For our current discussion, we will refer mainly to the preferred guidelines from perhaps the most recognized source we researched, the online Cambridge Dictionary. According to Cambridge, if we are writing several adjectives before a noun without a preferred order for emphasis, we can arrange them as follows based on their function:

1 quantity one, two, four 7 color black, white, red
2 opinion talented, pretty, boring 8 pattern striped, spotted, checked
3 size big, small, tall 9 origin Swedish, African, Cuban
4 condition or quality lean, easy, cold 10 material glass, wood, brick
5 shape square, round, flat 11 type boxed, exposed, all-inclusive
6 age old, young, ancient 12 purpose cooking, sleeping, teaching

(Note that we modified the table by adding quantity [1] and pattern [8], which appeared among other resources but not with Cambridge.)

Whether in writing or speaking, in daily use we will often not read or hear descriptive words strictly in this order; these guidelines are not fixed. Rather, they serve as a road map for communication that sounds more sequentially natural when needed. In addition, using more than three adjectives before a noun is rare and generally not recommended.

With that being said, using the table above, we can form descriptive expressions with some direction.


I would like a piece of the delicious [opinion], square [shape], Swedish [origin] dessert.

Do you still wear those old [age] white [color] shoes?

Those two [quantity] tall [size], lean [physical quality] men work for the firm.

The professor’s four [quantity] old [age], boxed [type] teaching [purpose] files are sure to aid the defense.

(To review or learn more about punctuating adjectives, see Rule 2 of Commas and our article Commas, Part 3.)

For many of us, our ear for language and our intentions for emphasis will continue to inform how we arrange descriptive words. Should we be in doubt, we can simply refer to the table and help our adjectives find a sense of proper place.

Pop Quiz

In the following sentences, identify the suggested order of the adjectives according to the table in this article.

1. The ________ movie is putting me to sleep.
a) boring, old
b) old, boring

2. The group of ________ musicians just emerged from the plane.
a) Cuban, young, talented
b) talented, young Cuban
c) young, talented Cuban

3. They want ________ boxes for their project.
a) two small, flat wood
b) small two, wood, flat
c) two wood, flat small


Pop Quiz Answers

1. The ________ movie is putting me to sleep.
a) boring, old [2 opinion, 6 age]
b) old, boring

2. The group of ________ musicians just emerged from the plane.
a) Cuban, young, talented
b) talented, young Cuban [2 opinion, 6 age, 9 origin]
c) young, talented Cuban

3. They want ________ boxes for their project.
a) two small, flat wood [1 quantity, 3 size, 5 shape, 10 material]
b) small two, wood, flat
c) two wood, flat, small

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

20 responses to “Arranging Multiple Adjectives”

  1. Irene Koivu says:

    I often ignore this rule; we generally do not pause between adjectives in speaking, so why clutter the printed page with extraneous commas? We say, “The old gray mare,” not “The old, gray mare.”

    • Commas aren’t just for pauses. We don’t pause when we say “I’d like mayo, mustard, onions, and pickles on my sandwich.” Standards for writing can differ from those for speaking.

  2. Janet Wood says:

    Thank you! I have seen this referenced before but never in quite such a neat format. I find that my instinctive usage agrees with this most of the time, so I have obviously absorbed the “rules” without ever learning them. It helps when explaining why you want to change the word order for colleagues who are not first language English speakers. I will keep a copy of that little table to share as needed.

  3. Adria Sorensen says:

    Where would feeling adjectives (such as frazzled, grumpy) or action adjectives such as (blinking, waltzing, waddling) fall into the order of adjectives?
    Also, I’m curious how you would define or categorize the following specific adjectives:
    tropical, constipated, lop-sided, albino, bearded, shiny, glowing, oinking, neon, metallic, and crabby.

  4. Mohammad Zia says:

    For learners of English as a second language, it is crucial to be familiar with these rules. Once, I saw the sentence, “you walk down the steep, smelly corridor,” I thought steep is a noun and a verb is missing in smelly corridor because we don’t use a comma between two adjectives of different type.

    • We’re happy to hear this article helped you understand how to deal with multiple adjectives. It very well may be different from sentence structures in your native language.

  5. M Shaheer. says:

    What is the order if the adverb and adjective come consecutively in a sentence, e.g., enough big or big enough?

    • Adverbs may come before or after adjectives. In your example, it would come after, as in That tree is big enough. An example of an adverb coming before the adjective could be That is a very tall tree, where the adverb very is modifying the adjective tall.

  6. Angela says:

    Is there a hierarchy for adjectives in same category when they are equal, and what is the ordinance when a group is a subsection of another, e.g. Wheel-Trans FOS customers (program, subsection of program, customers)? Although these program names are nouns, they become adjectives describing customers.

    • If items in the same category are equal, their order becomes a matter of desired emphasis or writer’s preference. Our guidance presented in the article centers on everyday descriptions. The order you presented of “program” followed by “subsection of program” to describe “customers” sounds logical to us. Such order may be determined by each industry’s system of categorizing rather than by any overarching grammatical principle.

  7. Luiz says:

    It is unanimously agreed that the company’s _______ new line of products will dominate foreign markets as well as its domestic one.
    (A) impressive (B) impressively
    The answer(s) is A or AB.
    Why? Many thanks for your reply.

    • says:

      The answer would depend on which thought you wish to emphasize.
      If you wish to emphasize how new it is–perhaps the line is being launched much sooner than expected–you would use “impressively”: It is unanimously agreed that the company’s impressively new line of products will dominate foreign markets as well as its domestic one.

      If you wish to emphasize the line, you would use “impressive” as a second modifier of “line” (with “new”): It is unanimously agreed that the company’s impressive new line of products will dominate foreign markets as well as its domestic one.

  8. jenny says:

    Are commas in the right places for the following?

    Small, 2″ x 2″ beautiful box … High-performance 6-speed, 2 HP stainless steel engine

    Are commas needed here?
    Long-lasting 7-inch removable dishwasher-safe paddle

    • says:

      We recommend the following:
      A beautiful, small, 2″ x 2″ box
      High-performance, 6-speed, 2 HP, stainless steel engine
      7-inch, long-lasting, removable, dishwasher-safe paddle

  9. John Breeze says:

    I’m looking at the “Cambridge” arrangement. Can’t figure out why “(mark my footsteps) good my page” feels awkward while ” … my good page” feels better (or is it just more modern”?). The Cambridge arrangement doesn’t have a place for a possessive, but should it actually be #1? Thanks.

    • says:

      “Mark my footsteps good, my page” is grammatically incorrect. The correct adverb to describe the verb mark should be well instead of good. In the phrase “my good page” the word good is used as an adjective; therefore, it is correct.

  10. Awais says:

    This is a very informative article about arranging multiple adjectives, but we often see multiple adjectives not separated by commas. I am talking about open-spaced adjectives, not about hyphenated ones. Thanks.

    • says:

      Our Rule 2 of Commas says, “Use a comma to separate two adjectives when the order of the adjectives is interchangeable.” Therefore, you will often see two adjectives without commas.

  11. Chryss Guiler says:

    Regarding the Word Play in the newsletter containing this article (Arranging Multiple Adjectives 02-21-2024), I found a meme very similar to it. I am unable to copy the meme here as a jpeg, but you can visualize it as a tweet with a reply:

    Tweet: Does anyone else feel like their being watched?
    Reply from Central Intelligence Agency: *They’re

    Always makes me chuckle.

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