Order of adjectives in English
The order of eight adjectives to form a perfect sentence is a daunting task when studying English grammar. Interestingly, even native English speakers have no inkling of the existence of a mandatory rule that must be followed in this regard. Out of 10 native English speakers, only at least one knows this rule.
But some rules of English grammar are things that native speakers know but aren’t aware that they know, even if they use them every day. When someone points out just one thing, it’s like a little magical shock.
The key question in this line is whether we should learn the correct order of adjectives.
Clearly, for those learning the English language, it can be useful in the future. If you’re a teacher, you should do this because students always get confused due to this grammatical rule. Learning how to correctly place adjectives in a sentence will also come in handy, especially when you encounter multiple adjectives in a sentence.
For example, BBC correspondent Matthew Anderson pointed out the “rule” about the correct order of adjectives before a noun via Twitter. Judging by the number of retweets, which, at the latest count, exceeded 75,500, this came as a complete surprise to many people who thought they knew everything about the English language.
The abbreviation “O-S-A-S-C-O-M-P” stands for the order in which adjectives should be placed before a noun, as explained in the book “The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase” by professional grammarian Mark Forsyth. The author notes that adjectives must be arranged in the following order: opinion – size – age – shape – color – origin – material – purpose of the noun. Thus, you could have a beautiful small antique rectangular green knife made of French silver for carving. But if you even slightly deviate from this order, you will sound like a maniac.
The inability to arrange adjectives in the phrase mentioned above, as noted by Forsyth, seems inexplicably wrong (rectangular silver French antique small beautiful green carving knife…), although no one can say why. It’s almost like secret knowledge that we all share.
At QQ English, where we teach ESL students, the order of adjectives is studied with meticulous detail as an essential grammatical rule. We use a book published by Cambridge University Press to simplify this rule for our English learners.
To easily remember the rule about the order of adjectives, we can use the abbreviation O-S-A-S-COM-P.
First and foremost, the word order stems from adjectives that express opinions about something. These words simply describe what we feel and say about a specific noun.
Adjectives such as “delicious,” “beautiful,” “energetic,” “lazy,” and “sad” are examples of our opinions.
She baked DELICIOUS small cupcakes for her birthday.
The words “delicious” and “small” are adjectives working together in the sentence to give meaning to each other, rather than acting as separate descriptions of the noun “cupcakes.”
The second in the order of adjectives is size. These are adjectives describing sizes, such as “big,” “huge,” and “small.”
In the example given above, we use the adjective “small” to describe the size of the cupcakes.
She baked delicious SMALL cupcakes for her birthday.
In the order of adjectives in the English language, after size, come adjectives describing age. Some examples of adjectives describing age include “young,” “old,” “ancient,” “2-year-old,” and so on.
It’s important to note that in English, you can, but not very often, use more than three adjectives to describe a single noun in speech or in writing. Additionally, not all native speakers or English language experts necessarily place age after opinion adjectives.
With that in mind, consider the following example:
The big old ugly pick-up truck puttered along the road.
Please note that I placed the word “old” before the adjective “ugly” (opinion).
However, following the traditional order, it could look as follows:
The rusty big OLD delivery truck has been stationary along the road for years now.
This demonstrates that the order of adjectives in the English language is not always strict and can depend on context and personal preferences.
After age in the order of adjectives, we have adjectives describing shape or size. Some examples of such adjectives include “round,” “long,” “short,” and so on.
The rusty big old WIDE delivery truck has been stationary along the road for years now.
In this example, five adjectives are used.
In the order of adjectives, adjectives for color come next after shape adjectives. We typically use color adjectives to describe objects and animals:
The rusty big old wide GREY delivery truck has been stationary along the road for years now.
That’s quite a lot of adjectives in one sentence, isn’t it? Well, there’s more to come!
Continuing the discussion, let’s talk about origin, ethnicity, and religion. Words like “Filipino,” “Japanese,” or “Christian” fall into this category.
However, instead of placing multiple adjectives in front of one noun, let’s see what a real person might say:
They discovered a decorative century-old brown CHINESE vase in their backyard.
Adjectives for material typically are nouns that act as adjectives when used to describe other nouns, such as metal, paper, and silk.
Considering the sentence you provided, we can say:
They discovered a decorative century-old brown Chinese PORCELAIN vase in their backyard.
Finally, we have adjectives describing purpose, which come last in the order of adjectives. These are adjectives used to describe something very specific to their type and use. Furthermore, such adjectives usually answer the question “What are they used for?”
Some words used to describe purposes include cooking, gardening, shopping, and so on.
For adjectives of purpose, we often use a noun as an adjective as well. “Shopping” is a gerund, a type of noun ending in -ing.
For example, we say:
My friend bought a beautiful new red SHOPPING bag yesterday at the mall.
Learning the order of adjectives may seem like a challenging task, but honestly, it’s a piece of cake. Sometimes, especially when we see so many words, we tend to assume that we won’t be able to do it, even before we’ve had a chance to unravel the mystery.
But now that you know the rule for the order of adjectives, we bet it’ll be a breeze for you! The next time you encounter multiple adjectives in one sentence, all you need to do is apply this rule. And it comes with the abbreviation O-S-A-S-C-O-M-P.