Adjective Order‏‎ in English Grammar

Parts Of Speech

ICAL TEFLAdjective order concerns the order in which adjectives‏‎ are used in a phrase. They usually follow this order:

agecolororiginmaterialpurpose
anewredSwissplasticarmyknife

We can have other types of adjectives which we put before the age. These are general adjectives about the size, the shape and our opinion of the noun. Often we can change the order of these adjectives but we usually put the most important first.

Here we are concerned with taste:

 opinionsize 
atastybigsandwich

But if we think the most important thing about the sandwich is its size, we can say:

 sizeopinion 
abigtastysandwich

Having said all this, the order of adjectives can be changed for different literary effect and is not set in stone.

Style

When you write, it is best not to use too many adjectives. Certainly, never more than two or, at most, three in a phrase:

The sharp, Swiss army knife pierced my skin.

I scoffed down a big, thick sandwich.

Otherwise it can start to look clumsy:

The old, sharp, red, Swiss army knife pierced my skin.

I scoffed down a two-dollar, tasteless, big, thick, crusty, homemade sandwich.

Mnemonic – OSASCOMP

The mnemonic OSASCOMP* can be used to help remember the order in which adjectives should appear:

Opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Color, Origin, Material, Purpose.

* this isn’t easy to remember; however try this:

On Saturday And Sunday Cold Ovens Make Pastry

As a side note, did you know that ICAL TEFL invented this mnemonic which is now used extensively amongst English teachers and students?

 

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6 Comments

  1. Tatiana de Campos

    Awesome! I tend to rely on mnemonic devices when teaching, and order of adjectives is not easy to teach… But this post has just made it a lot easier! Thanks!

    • Pete West

      Great! Thanks for taking the time to let us know. 🙂

  2. William

    should I say ‘big sour mango’ or ‘sour big mango’? thanks a lot.

    • Pete West

      A big sour mango. 🙂

  3. Martin Tulestedt

    A version that makes sense and also adds the adjective group of PATTERN to the list (added material in CAPITALS):

    Opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Color, Pattern, Origin, Material, Purpose.

    * this isn’t easy to remember; however try this:

    On Saturday And Sunday COMMON PLEASANT Ovens Make PastrIES

    • Pete West

      Thank you for your contribution.