Enumeration of Adjectives (with Examples Showing Comma Usage)
Enumeration of Adjectives"Enumeration of adjectives" means using more than one adjective consecutively, i.e., lining up multiple adjectives.
Examples of Enumeration of AdjectivesHere are some examples of enumeration of adjectives. In all examples on this page, the noun being modified by the adjectives is in bold.
- a small feminine hand
- thick, acrid, poisonous smoke (Note that this example has commas between the adjectives. There is more on this to come.)
- clever, handsome, and proactive man (Note that this example has commas between the adjectives and the word "and." There is more on this to come.)
Commas between AdjectivesWriters are sometimes unsure when to use commas with multiple adjectives. The rules about using commas (and conjunctions, usually the word "and") in a list of adjectives are relaxed:
For TWO adjectives:
- vast, inhospitable moor (with a comma)
- vast and inhospitable moor (with "and")
- vast inhospitable moor (with nothing)
- vast, inhospitable, windy moor (commas between)
- vast, inhospitable and windy moor
(comma(s) between and then "and" )
(With this style, follow your convention; i.e., put a comma before "and" if you advocate the Oxford Comma.)
- vast inhospitable windy moor (nothing between)
- vast inhospitable and windy moor (nothing and then "and")
The Order of Adjectives in EnglishThe order of adjectives in English is opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, and purpose. For example:
- A lovely, small, Victorian, oval, black, Italian, oak, soup spoon
A Widget to Teach the Order of AdjectivesHere is a widget that teaches and tests the order of adjectives. Click on anything that's green or has a green border. Have a play!
|Opinion||Getting ready...||Getting ready...|
|Size||Getting ready...||Getting ready...|
|Age||Getting ready...||Getting ready...|
|Shape||Getting ready...||Getting ready...|
|Colour||Getting ready...||Getting ready...|
|Origin||Getting ready...||Getting ready...|
|Material||Getting ready...||Getting ready...|
|Purpose||Getting ready...||Getting ready...|
Why Should I Care about Enumeration of Adjectives?Here are three noteworthy points related to the enumeration of adjectives.
(Point 1) Punctuate your string of adjectives correctly.Remember that the rules for commas and conjunctions (e.g., "and," "but," "or") with a string of adjectives used attributively (i.e., before the noun it modifies) are relaxed, but you should be consistent with your style.
When the string of adjectives is used predicatively (i.e., after the noun it modifies), you should switch to normal writing rules, including your local protocol for using the Oxford comma.
- The terrain is rocky and dangerous.
- The terrain is rocky, isolated and dangerous. (for those who don't use the Oxford comma)
- The terrain is rocky, isolated, and dangerous. (for those who do use the Oxford comma)
(Point 2) Avoid incomprehensible strings of "adjectives."In business writing, it is not unusual to encounter a string of incomprehensible adjectives. Look at the following sentences:
- Factor in the service level agreement completion time. (difficult to understand)
- Engineers will install the email retrieval process improvement software. (difficult)
To avoid such "adjective" strings, do one or all of the following:
- Completely rearrange the sentence.
- Convert one of the "adjectives" to a verb.
- Use hyphens to highlight the compound adjectives.
- Factor in the time to complete the service-level agreement. (better)
- Engineers will install the software to improve the email-retrieval process. (better)
(Point 3) Be careful with your order of adjectives.Adjectives that modify the same noun are called "coordinate adjectives." Coordinate adjectives should follow the precedence list given above (i.e., opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, and purpose). Be careful though. Not all adjectives in a string of adjectives are coordinate. Often, one of the adjectives is inseparable from the noun because they belong together as a recognised thing (i.e. a single semantic unit).
- A Chinese wooden guitar.
- A wooden Spanish guitar. (As a "Spanish guitar" is a thing, "Spanish" doesn't take its place according to the precedence list. It cannot be separated from "guitar." In effect, "Spanish guitar" is a compound noun (a noun comprising more than one word), which is why we've bolded the whole term.)
Read more about non-coordinate adjectives on the adjectives page.