November 10, 2015 | Posted in: Writing & Grammar Tips

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Order of Adjectives and Comma Usage

Oder of adjectives. When to use a comma with adjectives. Coordinate adjectives and cumulative adjectives.

When multiple adjectives are used, it can be confusing to determine if commas should separate the adjectives. Multiple adjectives are typically classed in a particular order with commas being used between coordinate adjectives (adjectives from the same category) and no commas used between cumulative adjectives (adjectives from different categories).

The list and tests below will help determine if adjectives are cumulative or coordinate, when a comma should be used, and the suggested order multiple adjectives should be listed in. The order of adjectives isn’t an exact rule and some sources may vary slightly on this order.

Order of Adjectives

  1. General observation/opinion
  2. Specific observation/opinion
  3. Size/shape
  4. Age
  5. Color
  6. Nationality/type/origin
  7. Material
  8. Purpose

Coordinate Adjectives

Coordinate adjectives come from the same category and require commas when multiple adjectives are used to describe a noun. Coordinate adjectives carry the same weight or emphasis. The order of the adjectives can be changed without sounding awkward.

Example: Mary has a bright, upbeat personality.

Test 1: Can we rearrange the adjectives without the sentence sounding awkward?
Mary has an upbeat, bright personality.

Test 2: Can we replace the comma with the word and without the sentence sounding awkward?
Mary has a bright and upbeat personality.

Cumulative Adjectives

Cumulative adjectives come from different categories and do not require commas when multiple adjectives are used to describe a noun. Cumulative adjectives “build” on each other. The order of the adjectives cannot be changed and will often sound awkward when rearranged.

Example: The skilled helicopter mechanic received an award.

Test 1: Can we rearrange the adjectives without the sentence sounding awkward?
The helicopter skilled mechanic received an award.

Test 2: Can we place and between the adjectives without the sentence sounding awkward?
The skilled and helicopter mechanic received an award.

12 Comments

  1. fashionbeyondforty
    February 24, 2017

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    I remember learning about this in school! This is a wonderful refresher as I have forgotten much since then! Thank you

  2. Richard_eCoursesXYZ (@Richard_eCourse)
    February 24, 2017

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    I remember the mechanics of grammar usage much more than the technical terms of usage. I enjoy reading your lessons as they make me a better communicator.

    • Amor Libris (Kelly Hartigan)
      February 24, 2017

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      Richard, in all honesty, it’s not a bad thing if you remember the mechanics of grammar usage more than the technical terms. 🙂 Nobody will know if you don’t know the terms, but I guarantee you, there will be a reader somewhere who will point out what is “wrong” with what you have written.

  3. Stacey Demirgian
    February 24, 2017

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    Im a newbie blogger and this is great. I always have too many commas

  4. Josselyn Radillo
    February 24, 2017

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    as i teacher, this could be a great site and post for my students that are learning English as a second language. i’ll def share your site with my class.

  5. lba14525
    February 24, 2017

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    I love reading your lessons although I realize how much I don’t know. I try to incorporate what I learn here into my writing. thanks!

  6. Scott
    February 24, 2017

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    This is a great refresher. I always have problems with commas. Especially Oxfords!

    • Amor Libris (Kelly Hartigan)
      February 24, 2017

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      Commas can be tricky, Scott. Are you hinting at an Oxford comma explanation? The Oxford (serial) comma is a comma used after the penultimate (second to the last) item in a list of three or more items, before ‘and’ or ‘or.’

  7. emmaeatsandexplores
    February 26, 2017

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    I think we grow up just knowing rules like this and use them in everyday language without really knowing why so it’s great to discover the reasons behind the way we speak. Interesting stuff

  8. Sauumye Chauhan
    February 26, 2017

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    This is such a nice way to touch up on all those grammar rules. I always love coming to your website for the same.

  9. katrinagehman
    February 26, 2017

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    it’s funny that I write for a living, but am horrible at grammar rules. thank god for computers to help me.

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