We all use adjectives to describe things clearly. But did you know adjectives must be in a specific order? Also, do you know when to use commas in between them? Is it the “beautiful tiny white rose” or the “tiny beautiful white rose” or the “tiny, beautiful, white rose?” (One of those is correct.) Let’s learn about these crazy adjectives! 🙂
First, here is the order in which you list adjectives:
- Quantity (four, a few, several)
- Opinion (delicious, charming, beautiful, lazy, soft, hard, thick, flimsy)
- Size (tall, huge, tiny)
- Age (old, young, new, ten-year-old)
- Origin (Swedish, Chinese)
- Material (glass, wooden, cotton)
- Purpose or qualifier (sports [car])
So the correct order would be “beautiful tiny white rose” (opinion, size, color)
* I saw two stunning antique Victorian brass candle holders. (quantity, opinion, age, origin, material)
* He owns a gorgeous new red Italian sports car. (opinion, age, color, origin, qualifier)
* She has a delicate heart-shaped face and big blue eyes. (opinion, shape … size, color)
* We wondered what was in the three huge oblong yellow packages. (quantity, size, shape, color)
Second, this is how to determine when to use a comma between adjectives:
If you use adjectives in the same category (from the list above), you use commas to separate them. These are called “coordinate adjectives.” They can be rearranged without changing the meaning, so put commas in between them.
I can’t lift the heavy, bulky box.
I can’t lift the bulky, heavy box.
He’s a lazy, no-good, worthless bum.
He’s a no-good, lazy, worthless bum.
He’s a worthless, lazy, no-good bum.
She wore an exquisite, breathtaking, dazzling wedding gown.
She wore a breathtaking, exquisite, dazzling wedding gown.
She wore a dazzling, breathtaking, exquisite wedding gown.
TIP: You can use the word “and” in between coordinate adjectives:
I can’t lift the heavy and bulky box.
He’s a lazy and no-good and worthless bum. / He’s a lazy, no-good, and worthless bum.
She wore an exquisite and breathtaking and dazzling wedding gown. / She wore an exquisite, breathtaking, and dazzling wedding gown.
If you use only one adjective per category (from the list above), you do not use commas to separate them. They are distinctly different from each other. These are called “cumulative adjectives.”
TIP: You cannot use “and” in between cumulative adjectives:
I saw two and stunning and antique and Victorian and brass candle holders. (Incorrect, so don’t use commas.)
There are instances where you may use a combination of the two. For example, I was asked this question:
Which categories do “thick,” “curly,” and “dark” fit into? Is it “Her thick, dark, curly hair” or “Her thick dark curly hair” or is it “Her thick, curly, dark hair” or “Her thick, curly dark hair”?
Answer: It could be either: “Her thick, curly dark hair” or “Her curly, thick dark hair” or “Her thick and curly dark hair.”
Both “thick” and “curly” are OPINION words (coordinate adjectives, so put a comma or the word “and” between them), and they come before COLOR in the hierarchy (cumulative, so no comma between OPINION and COLOR adjectives). In this case you are using two coordinate adjectives along with a cumulative adjective.
Savvy Writer Tip:
Adjectives are effective for describing things vividly. Savvy, proficient, astute writers know how to use coordinate and cumulative adjectives correctly. 😉