The Royal Order of Adjectives

Most of the time we instinctively know the order of words to describe something — for example, “sweet little baby” versus “little sweet baby.” But when thoughts get more complex, the right order of adjectives isn’t always so clear.

Putting your words in the correct sequence doesn’t just make your sentences sound better — it also helps make your meaning clear. Here are the established rules for building a descriptive sentence:

  1. Determiner (e.g., a, an, her, our, five)
  2. Opinion/observation (e.g., adorable, repulsive)
  3. Size (e.g., huge, tiny)
  4. Shape (e.g., square, round)
  5. Age (e.g., young, old)
  6. Colour (e.g., green, pink)
  7. Origin (e.g., Canadian, French)
  8. Material (e.g., wooden, plastic)
  9. Qualifier/purpose (e.g., sports, as in a sports car)

To string all of these together: “Her adorable, tiny, round, young, pink, French plastic sportscar really turned heads.”

Clearly, a list that long at a certain point loses reader interest. As a rule, using more than three adjectives at a time can make for a clunky read. Separate from putting them in the right sequence, it’s also a good idea to focus on the most important adjectives to get your point across.