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Adjective Order‏‎ in English Grammar

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

  age color origin material purpose  
a new red Swiss plastic army knife

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:

  opinion size  
a tasty big sandwich

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

  size opinion  
a big tasty sandwich

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 Responses to Adjective Order‏‎ in English Grammar

  1. Tatiana de Campos says:

    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!

  2. William says:

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

  3. Martin Tulestedt says:

    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

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