Published 5th February 2016


Big, beautiful, boring. You probably think you know everything there is to know about adjectives. Adjectives seem to be a relatively simple aspect of English because they don’t change like other words do – nouns and verbs, for instance. However, there are a few rules of using adjectives which you may not be aware of and which will help your learners be able to use them better.

1. Order of adjectives

When we use more than one adjective to describe a noun, there is a specific order that we need to use. Let’s look at an example:

My mom collects beautiful, old, round, red, French glass vases.

This sentence sounds a little bit weird because it’s not often that we would use so many adjectives at one time, but this is the order in which we would use them:

                                                Opinion, size, shape, age, colour, nationality, material

If we delete a few of the adjectives in the example it would sound more natural and still prove our point:

My mom collects beautiful, old French vases.

My mom collects round, red glass vases.

If the adjectives are used in any other order, it sounds awkward. Think, for example, of a brown, big dog.

2. Bored or boring?

One aspect of adjectives which learners seem to find particularly tricky is whether or not the adjective ends in –ed or –ing.

I am bored.

 I am boring.

There is actually a very simple rule for this, but we may need to point this out to our students before they can use it in their language production:

The –ed ending refers to the person or object experiencing the adjective, while the –ing ending refers to the person or object which is causing the adjective.

3. Comparative and superlative

When we compare two or more items, we need to use different forms of the adjectives. If we are comparing two items, we use the comparative; if we are comparing three or more items we use the superlative. Comparative adjectives end in –er for one-syllable words or use more if there are two syllables. Superlative adjectives use –est for one-syllable words or use the most ­if there are two syllables.

For example:

My dad is stronger/ more intelligent than your dad.

Tom Cruise is the shortest/ the most adventurous actor in the world.

As you can see, learning adjectives is not as simple as learning the meaning of the words. Learners need to know the rules about adjectives and how to use them depending on the situation and the intended meaning. Being able to use adjectives correctly will ensure your students sound more natural in their productions of English.