In my video on peripheral language skills for AsiaTEFL’s 2023 international conference, I mention a guide for helping students of English deduce the correct order of adjectives in compound-adjective words. Here it is: After considerable research and consideration I have compiled what I feel is the most extensive and reliable list to date. I hope it’s helpful for both students and teachers alike!
Silly, beautiful, horrible, difficult
Large, tiny, enormous, little
Wet, poor, happy, broken
Ancient, new, young, old
Expensive, cheap, five-dollar
Square, round, flat, rectangular
Blue, pink, reddish, gray
Spotted, flowery, zig-zag, plaid, plain
French, lunar, American, eastern, Korean
Wooden, metal, cotton, paper
Gucci, Nestle, Tesco
Sleeping bag, garbage can, pocket knife
There are many exceptions, and sometimes even native English speakers will disagree about some things.
Though “big” is a size, it often comes first, even before opinion, e.g. “Big beautiful boat.”
-Adjectives ending in “y” usually go directly in front of “little” or “old,” e.g. “hungry little mouse. -“Big” and “old” usually go right next to each other, as do “little” and “old,” e.g. “dirty little old man.” -Sometimes several of the rules above will be together! If this happens, you just have to guess.
Adjectives that don’t fit into the table, like “traditional,” usually go somewhere between “age” and “origin.”
If you can’t remember anything else: Opinion, other stuff, origin, material, variety.