Dear teachers,

1) When do we have to put a comma or the coordinator “and” to separate adjectives?
2) Would you please tell me if it is compulsory to put commas in a long series of adjectives ?


a) A small, blue, canvas bag. / A small, blue canvas bag (?)
b) A big, old, square, black, wooden Chinese table.
c) A sharp hunting knife.
d) Two beautiful small old round red wax Thai candles. (Do I need commas here?)
e) A dirty, torn coat.
f) She writes long and flowery letters. / Sne write long flowery letters (?)

g) A concrete glass building. (Would you order these "material" adjectives in alphabetical order? Would you please give me another example?)

h) A practical economical car. (Under which category would you place these adjectives? Would you please give me another example like this?)

Thank you for your help.
1 2 3
In many languages, adjectives usually occur in an unmarked order. However, some languages do not have this tendency.

English is a language with a preferred order of adjectives. Native speakers pick this up as a matter of course; those who are learning it as an adult have to memorize it. Telugu and Hungarian have adjective order preferences similar to English. Other languages may have other sequences.

The adjectives which appear nearest the noun may be called phrase-making, classification or qualifier adjectives, e.g. tree frog. Before this can come color adjectives, e.g. red tree frog, and before that, participial adjectives, e.g. whining red tree frog. The first adjectives are sometimes called absolute adjectives, e.g. nasty whining red tree frog.

Grammarians have numerous opinions on adjective order. These are some of them:

  • Determiner, Opinion, Description (size, age, shape, color, origin, material), classification
  • Determiner, Opinion, Dimension, Age, Shape, Color, Origin, Material
  • Determiner, Opinion, Size, Age, Color, Nationality, Material
  • Determiner, Opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Color, Material, Origin, Purpose
  • Determiner, Opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Color, Origin, Material
  • Determiner, Opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Color, Origin, Material, Purpose
  • Determiner, Opinion, Size, Shape, Condition, Age, Color, Origin
  • Determiner, Opinion/Evaluation, Appearance, Age, Color, Origin
  • Determiner, Opinion/General description, Dimension/Size/Weight, Age, Shape, Colour, Country of origin, Material, Purpose/power
  • Determiner, Opinion/Judgement, Size, Age, Shape, Color, Nationality, Material, Purpose/Qualifier
  • Determiner, Opinion/Value, Size, Age/Temperature, Shape, Color, Origin, Material
  • Determiner, Observation, Physical Description (Size, Shape, Age, Color), Origin, Material, Qualifier

  • In addition, determiners sometimes have their own order. Here are some opinions:

    • Quantifier, Determiner, Order, Number, Intensifier
    • Quantifier, Article/Possessive/Demonstrative
    • Determiner (Articles/Demonstratives/Indefinites/Possessives), Order, Quantity
    • Article, Order, Number

Hello Incho,

Thank you for the lesson. Which adjectives are called "phrase-making", "classifiers" and "qualifiers", please? And when you use a long series of adjectives, is it not necessary to use commas or coodinators?

Merry Chistmas to you and all the other members of the forum.

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Hello Hela

Did I tell you I am a Christian? By the way, I am. Thank you for your Christmas wishes. Please accept my compliments.

Now from the sublime to the ridiculous: a phrase making adjective is the one standing nearest the noun it modifies.

No coordinators and comma needed
Given the different orders recommended by grammarians, would you say:

- A beautiful old English silver mirror OR A beautiful old sivler English mirror (?)

- A 19th century Swedish wooden salad bowl OR A 19th century wooden Swedish salad bowl (?)

All the best
-A beautiful old English silver mirror

-A 19th century Swedish wooden salad bowl
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Hi Hela

A few thoughts:
Your original examples b and d are so utterly unrealistic that they don't warrant any comment other than "Too many adjectives!" They consist of gigantically long strings of adjectives that would never actually be used. I'm quite sure that none of the people who have produced the various "order of adjectives" lists intended to suggest that one adjective from every category could or should be dumped in front of a single noun -- no matter how correct the order might be. Poor noun! Poor sentence! Poor reader!!! Will the reader ever be able to find the noun in all that adjective debris? Overly long strings of adjectives simply make bad sentences. Three adjectives are manageable. Four sometimes work. But four or more is also when things tend to begin to get ugly, difficult and confusing. Look for other ways to say things!

The adjectives in example g need the word 'and' between them if they both refer to material:
- a concrete and glass building
- a peanut butter and jelly sandwich(in the US this is also referred to as "PB and J" Emotion: big smile)
- a gorgeous silk and satin dress

Alphabetical order is meaningless for ordering adjectives in sentences.
A question about this site:

Under "purpose" they give examples such as: "sleeping bag" and "roasting tin".

This confuses me. I read both these as compound nouns formed by joining a gerund ("sleeping/roasting") with a noun ("bag/tin"). I don't see "sleeping" or "roasting" as adjectives, nor do I think they're used like adjectives.

Example from the original post above: "a sharp hunting knife"

If I read "hunting" used as an adjective there, I'd read it as a present-participle, and not as a gerund (and the phrase makes little sense: how, or what, could a knife hunt?). I'd also stress the components differently: "HUNTing knife" vs. "HUNTing KNIFE".

So, I'm confused: why are gerunds in compound nouns treated as adjectives? Or am I wrong about my analysis of "sleeping bag" and "hunting knife"?
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