The Royal Order of Adjectives
Have you ever wondered why we instinctively say “the shiny new red car” and not “the red new shiny car”? The reason is that there is a royal order for adjectives, and most native English speakers learn to use it as we’re forming our first complete sentences.
Adjectives fall into categories, and those categories comprise the royal order:
Determiner (articles and other limiters: the book, your car)
Observation or opinion (a genuine fraud, an interesting book, an expensive watch)
Size and Shape (tiny, fat, square)
Age (young, old, new)
Color (blue, sea-green)
Origin (American, Chinese)
Material (describing what something is made of: silk, copper, wooden)
Qualifier (final adjective, often an integral part of the noun: vacation resort, wedding dress, race car)
Typically, writers know better than to string together more than two or three adjectives at a time, and we don’t seem to struggle too much in getter their order straight. Where it gets confusing is in deciding when to use commas to separate a string of adjectives.
You probably already know that equal adjectives should be separated by commas, as in this example:
The singer wore a beaded, feathered costume.
“Beaded” and “feathered” are equal adjectives, ones that belong to the same category (material) in the royal order. You could switch their position, and the rhythm of the sentence would still be correct.
However, when you create a string of adjectives, be mindful of both their proper order and of the fact that you needn’t use commas to separate adjectives of a different category.
The singer wore an antique purple beaded, feathered costume.
Only one comma is necessary in the above sentence because “beaded” and “feathered” are the only adjectives belonging to the same category.
If you’re ever in doubt about where to place commas in a string of adjectives, refer to the royal order. It’ll be your faithful guide.
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