Learning Objectives

  • Correctly identify and use adjectives
A list of several adjectives.

Figure 1. Another term used for adjectives is a “describing word.”


An adjective modifies a noun and, in so doing, provides more information or detail about the noun. It might be anything from color to size to temperature to personality.

In certain cases, numbers can also be adjectives. When you say, “Seven is my lucky number,” seven is a noun, but when you say, “There are seven cats in this painting,” seven is an adjective, because it is modifying the noun cats.

Comparable Adjectives

Some adjectives are comparable: they exist on a continuum. For example, a person may be polite, but another person may be more polite, and a third person may be the most polite of the three. The word more here modifies the adjective polite to indicate that a comparison is being made (a comparative), and most modifies the adjective to indicate an absolute comparison (a superlative).

Table 1. Comparative and Superlative Adjectives
Adjective Comparative Superlative
kind kinder kindest
strong stronger strongest
good better best
bad worse worst
careful more careful most careful
awesome more awesome most awesome

There is another way to compare adjectives in English. Many adjectives can take the suffixes –er and –est to indicate the comparative and superlative forms, respectively (e.g., great, greater, greatest). Some comparable adjectives are irregular: for example, good, better, bestbad, worse, worst).

There is no simple rule for knowing which pattern is correct for a particular adjective; however, the general tendency is for shorter adjectives to take the suffixes and for longer adjectives to use more and most.

  • hotter (not more hot)
  • more beautiful (not beautifuller)
  • more pretentious (not pretentiouser)

A Note about Fun

The adjective fun is a notable exception to the tendency we just described. You might expect the comparative to be funner and the superlative to be funnest. However, for a long time, these words were considered nonstandard, so more fun and most fun became the correct forms.

The reasoning behind this rule is now obsolete (it has a lot to do with the way fun became an adjective), but the stigma against funner and funnest remains. While the tides are beginning to turn, it’s safest to stick to more fun and most fun in formal situations (such as in academic writing or in professional correspondence).

When you use comparative adjectives, the adjective is often accompanied by the word than (e.g., “He is taller than I am”).

Non-Comparable Adjectives

Non-comparable adjectives, on the other hand, are not measured on a continuum but are binary. Something is either “adjective,” or it is not. She is “dead” or not “dead.” In general, see below, a person is never more or less dead. Other examples include dead, true, and unique.

Of course, this rule is often broken. Although pregnant is logically non-comparable (a woman is either pregnant or not), you may hear a statement like “She looks more and more pregnant each day.”

Try It

Are the following adjectives comparable or non-comparable? For example:

  • Tall is a comparable adjective. Height exists on a continuum: there are many different heights. The comparative is taller, and the superlative is tallest.
  • Dead is a non-comparable. You are either dead or alive. However, this concept is played with in the movie The Princess Bride. Miracle Max says Wesley is “only mostly dead.” Max is expressing the fact that Wesley is still alive, despite being very close to death.

Adjectives need to be placed in a particular order. What information do you post first? If you’re a native English speaker, you can probably figure out the order without any thought—even if it’s only because you know what “sounds” right.

Below, you’ll find a table illustrating what’s called the “royal” order of adjectives. The order suggests we write four gorgeous, long-stemmed, red, silk roses rather than four silk, long stemmed, gorgeous, red roses.

The Royal Order of Adjectives[1]

Determiner Observation Physical Description Origin Material Qualifier Noun
Size Shape Age Color
a beautiful old Italian touring car
an expensive antique silver mirror
four gorgeous stemmed red silk roses
her short black hair
our big old English sheepdog
those square wooden hat boxes
that dilapidated little hunting cabin
 several giant young American basketball players
some delicious Chinese food

Here is the specific order for English language adjectives—intensifier, quality, size, age, color. Look at the two sentences again.

Four gorgeous provides the intensifier and quality; long-stemmed provides the size; red, provides the color; and silk provides an additional detail. Now look at the order of the adjectives in one of your own sentences and see if it makes sense to you.

Watch IT

Here’s another way to remember the order of adjectives: DOSASCOMP.

DOSASCOMP stands for Determiner, Opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Color, Origin, Material, Purpose. Watch the video below for an explanation.

Notice: Don’t forget coordinate adjectives need a comma.

Remember the test mentioned in the video: if you can reverse the order of the adjectives and you can put “and” between the adjectives, you need a comma.

Let’s take a look at non-coordinate adjectives that will not need a comma:

Example 1: Four and gorgeous roses (Does this sound right?)
Example 2: Gorgeous and four roses (Does this sound right?)
Incorrect: Four, gorgeous roses
Correct: Four gorgeous roses

Now let’s take a look at coordinate adjectives where you will need to add a comma:

Example 3: Sweet and lovable puppies (This sounds correct).
Example 4: Lovable and sweet puppies (This sounds correct).
Incorrect: Sweet lovable puppies
Correct: Sweet, lovable puppies

If your adjectives are in different categories in DOSASCOMP, they must stay in that order, and we do not use a comma between the two.

Try It

Did you get it correct? Keep in mind because adorable and little are in different categories in DOSASCOMP, they must stay in that order and a comma is not used. Another way to think about this is to say it aloud: little adorable cottage does not sound right.

  1. Adapted from Adjectives. (n.d.) Capital Community College Foundation. Retrieved from