The Seventh Edition: Order of Adjectives

The Nuances of Language: Editor’s Edition

Welcome to another installment of “Getting Slapped Silly with the Strict Rules of the English Language.” 

Our lesson for today: How to get a lovely, tidy, new, Pacific Islander, beautifying tan.

Banter aside, in this edition of “The Nuances of Language,” we are going to tackle a somewhat inconspicuous (and mostly forgettable) but nevertheless important rule: the order upon which a number of adjectives shall follow if and only if you use more than one adjective to describe a word. 

I know, I know. You’re probably wondering why to bother taking into consideration the order of adjectives you want to use to describe something, someplace, or someone. Well, you’re not exactly wrong. 

Writing fiction—basically, anything that isn’t considered formal writing—is very considerate of everything. All those pesky rules, from grammar to punctuation to syntax. The list could go on and on. But in fiction, everything (even general rules such as spelling and punctuation) isn’t strictly adhered to. You are given a lot of leeways when it comes to writing fiction. 

The rules of the English language are primarily intended to guide, not limit. 

There are, although, a number of rules that are absolutely necessary. This isn’t one of those, but you will still have to take it into account.

Sometimes we get this urge to just do something despite knowing the different implications it might have in our life. Like using a ton of adjectives to describe a single person, thing, place, event, or moment. 

Though we know cutting off those clumpy and clunky extra adjectives is a sound stylistic and grammatical choice, we still can’t stop ourselves from letting loose. 

So let us instead be sensible enough so as to make it as seamless and smooth for the reader as possible. We have to avoid causing confusion and trust me, adjectives that don’t follow the correct order tend to create confusion or simply make your writing awkward. This can cause impediments or obstructions to the flow of your story, an event we don’t want to happen.

Without further ado, the order of adjectives is simply this: opinion-size physical quality-shape-age-color-origin-material-type-purpose.

That is why we can have a small, brown dog but not a brown, small dog. 

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