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Tip 70: ESL: Using Adjectives in Writing

If you are a native speaker of English, you probably take a lot of things for granted—such as the order in which you write adjectives that describe nouns. English as a Second Language (ESL) writers, however, may have trouble with it.

Native English speakers/writers have lots of experience hearing the flow and rhythm of the language, so word order often just comes ‘naturally’ to us. ESL speakers/writers, however, have to learn what comes ‘natural.’

First, just to refresh your memory, adjectives are words that describe (modify) nouns. Nouns are the names of persons, places, things, or ideas.

If you use more than one adjective to describe a noun, they usually follow this order in a sentence:

  1. Article (a, an, or the)
  2. Judgment (good, bad, pretty, ugly)
  3. Size (big, little, tiny, gargantuan)
  4. Shape (round, flat, oval)
  5. Age (old, new, geriatric)
  6. Color (red, blue, white)
  7. Nationality (American, Danish, Spanish)
  8. Material (wooden, plastic, steel, aluminum)

Let’s write a sentence about buying a piece of furniture. The adjectives that describe it are Danish, white, antique, and pretty.

Ina bought a Danish, white, antique, pretty dresser for her daughter’s room.

To most native speakers, this sentence is awkward. If I order the adjectives according to the list above, it reads more clearly.

Ina bought a pretty, antique, white, Danish dresser for her daughter’s room.