Lesson 1.3a Adjective Order

downloadable worksheet

 

Which sounds better – a little brown dog or a brown little dog? Can you explain why? Probably not. When we have more than one adjective, there is an order to them that native speakers of English usually have intuitions about but have a hard time articulating. It's a fascinating example of the knowledge we have about language that we don't even realize. 

 

Generally, the adjective order in English is something like this:

  • quality, opinion, judgment, or attitude – ugly, wonderful, worse, lovely

  • size – huge, tiny

  • age, temperature – old, cold

  • shape – oval, square, twisted

  • color – red, orange, greenish

  • origin – Norwegian, local, East Indian

  • material – woven, metallic, plastic

 

Try it. Pick a noun and pick a determiner (a, the, my, your, etc.), and then put up to seven adjectives in between them to see if they follow this order. (We almost never have that many adjectives in regular speech, so you might want to try three or four – but seven is kind of fun as an extra challenge!) Compare your lists to see if you agree on the adjective orderings.

 

the _______________, _______________, _______________, ________________, _______________, ________________, _______________, thing

 

There may be some adjectives which you aren’t sure how to categorize using the labels listed in 1-7 above. Discuss with each other to see if you can agree what kind of adjective it might be.

 

Alternatively, have students create lists of adjectives and then determine what the meaning categories are that determine their order. Keep in mind that adjective order is a feature of speakers' unconscious knowledge of language. It is not something that varies by dialect, and is therefore, considered to have a preferred version. Non-native speakers may have different orders, which could provide interesting data for cross-linguistic discussion. 

 

key words: adjectives, order, meaning

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.1d: Order adjectives within sentences according to conventional patterns (e.g., a small red bag rather than a red small bag). 

 

Here is this lesson as a pdf.