Among native English speakers, the placement of adjectives seems to come naturally, but learners of English frequently ask why, when adjectives are usually placed (even listed) before a noun, do adjectives sometimes come after a noun or elsewhere in a sentence?

Another common question with respect to adjectives is why they are sometimes hyphenated, and this is a subject that also affects native English users. Additionally, questions arise regarding the placement of adjectives within an order when multiple adjectives are used to describe a noun.

All these questions will be addressed in this post, but let us first clarify what the role of an adjective is. An adjective describes or modifies a noun or pronoun, providing more information about its attributes or qualities:

  • An interesting book.
  • A happy dog.
  • A delicious cake.
  • A tall lady.

For more details on other parts of speech (word classes), please see the relevant article.

Adjective placement and order

Now, let’s have an in depth look at what the types of adjectives are and where they should be placed within a sentence.

Adjective placement before nouns

Pre-nominal adjectives

It is most usual for adjectives to be placed before nouns in English. ‘Pre-nominal’ or ‘attributive’ adjectives are adjectives that are placed before the noun (a person, object or place) they modify or describe. Pre-nominal adjectives provide additional information about that noun and specify its qualities or characteristics:

  • a ripe, red apple
  • a beautiful, red rose

In the above examples, ‘ripe’, ‘red’ and ‘beautiful’ are ‘attributive’ or ‘pre-nominal’ adjectives. They are placed directly before the noun they describe.

Adjective order

The general order in English is to place adjectives before the noun, and the adjective order also follows a specific sequence, called OSASCOMP:

  • opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, and purpose.
  • stylish, little, new, short, red, English, cotton sport-coat.
  • grumpy, old, fat, English cleaning lady.

However, it is not common to need to use this many adjectives to describe one noun, and not all adjectives necessarily follow this order. Context and stylistic purposes will influence their placement, but the guide is generally correct and helpful.

A note on compound nouns

Notice in the example of OSASCOMP above ‘sport’ and ‘cleaning’ are not highlighted as adjective although they define the purpose of their nouns. In some cases, what appears to be an adjective (whether it describes purpose, material or otherwise) is no longer an adjective but a part of the noun: a ‘compound noun’.

Compound nouns are linguistic constructs formed by combining two or more words to create a single, unified noun with a distinct meaning. They can be composed of nouns, adjectives, verbs and other word types, and they represent objects or concepts that may not have single-word equivalents. While some compound nouns function as adjectives when they modify other nouns, not all compound nouns serve this role. Many compound nouns stand independently as the subject or object of a sentence, describing a specific entity or idea without modifying another noun:

  • toothpaste
  • school teacher
  • bus stop
  • classroom
  • washing machine
  • french fries
  • leather jacket
  • cake shop
  • ex-husband

While some compound nouns have come to be one word over time and frequent use, others remain two words, or can be hyphenated: ‘ex-husband’. Often compound nouns can be written in multiple ways and there occurs disagreement on their presentation. What is clear is that even when a compound noun is written as two words it conveys the idea of something that is a single known unit or concept such as a washing machine or a leather jacket.

Hyphenating adjectives

Occasionally, when two or more adjectives work together to modify a noun, these adjectives are hyphenated for clarity. Not adjoined to the noun itself as in the examples above, but to each other:

  • a well-known author
  • a one-year-old baby
  • a time-worn expression

Properly hyphenated adjectives help avoid ambiguity. A ‘small-business owner’ needs to be distinguished from a ‘small business-owner’!

For more on compound nouns, compound modifiers and hyphenation, please read this post.

A note on determiners

Determiners are types of adjectives that specify something about a noun in a sentence. Determiners such as the articles, ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘an’, and demonstrative determiners such as ‘this’, ‘my’ and ‘their’, among others, identify whether a noun is specific or nonspecific, and indicate whether a particular item or any item within a given category is being referred to.

Quantifiers include words such as ‘some’, ‘many’, ‘few’, ‘several’, ‘all’ and ‘none’, among others, and provide information about the number of the nouns they modify.

Possessive determiners include words such as ‘my’, ‘your’ and ‘his’, among others, and provide information about the belonging of the nouns they modify.

For more details on determiners, please see the relevant article. While determiners are classed separately to adjectives, they also modify nouns and are sometimes seen as a subclass of adjectives rather than a separate word class. Determiners are typically positioned before nouns and, besides providing logical clarity, this placement helps distinguish between general and specific nouns. Specific nouns add more information, such as ‘golden retriever’, and general nouns refer to a broader category, such as ‘dog’

  • article = a dog, the dog
  • demonstrative determiner = that dog, those dogs
  • possessive determiner = my dog, your dog
  • quantifying determiner = some dogs, all dogs

So in writing my dog or all dogs, these determiners can also be viewed grammatically as pre-nominal adjectives.

Adjective placement after linking verbs

Post-nominal adjectives

‘Post-nominal’ or ‘predicative’ adjectives are adjectives that describe the subject of the sentences but come after a linking verb. Post-nominal adjectives provide information about the state or condition of the subject in the same way that pre-nominal adjectives do:

  • The lady is happy
  • The man is strict

In the above sentences the pre-nominal ‘strict man’ and ‘happy lady’ have simply been reordered to express those concepts in a more stylistically pleasing way.

When adjectives are placed after linking verbs, such as ‘seem’, ‘be’, ‘become’ and ‘appear’, they seem unlike the traditional adjectives shown thus far that directly modify nouns and typically appear before them. Adjectives that appear after linking verbs can be harder to identify as adjectives:

  • She seemed tired after the long journey.
  • The book became interesting.
  • The dessert appears delicious.
  • That man is quiet.

This grammatical structure is known as a ‘subject complement’, a word or phrase that follows a linking verb, and it can convey more nuanced meanings and add depth to the style of a sentence. Sometimes students become confused because they have been led to believe that an adjective must always be placed before a noun. You will notice that each of the above examples can be reworded without any change to the structure of the adjective itself:

  • The tired lady.
  • The interesting book.
  • The delicious dessert.
  • That quiet man.

But, if one removes the verb as in the examples above, the construction can be less precise.

Yet, if one rearranges the original sentences, as below, the construction is less appealing:

  • The seemingly tired lady.
  • The apparently delicious dessert.

Now, ‘seemingly’ and ‘apparently’ are also adjectives and the tone of the sentence is less impactful and less attractive. Likewise, ‘a quiet man’ and ‘a man that is quiet’ express subtly disparate ideas. One man is habitually quiet, while another may be quiet at a given moment. It is for this reason that academic, technical and sophisticated writers and speakers employ post-nominal adjectives in English.

Note that subject complements can be classed as ‘predicate nominatives’ and ‘predicate adjectives’.

Predicate nominatives are those nouns or noun phrases that rename or identify the subject:

  • She is a doctor.

In the above example, ‘a doctor’ is a predicate nominative because it renames the subject ‘She’. No adjective is included in this sentence.

However, when a subject complement is classed as a predicate adjective, an adjective is included that describes or provides information about the subject:

  • The cake smells delicious.

The same is true for object complements, which are simply words or phrases that follow a direct object rather than the subject of a sentence.

The following is an example of a post-nominal adjective used as an object complement.

  • They found the room empty.

In this sentence, ‘the room’ is the direct object and ’empty’ is a post-nominal adjective that describes the condition of the room and functions as the object complement.

Adjective placement in specific contexts

Adjective placement in comparative and superlative forms

In English, the placement of adjectives in comparative and superlative forms depends on the length and type of the adjective.

For detailed information on the comparative and superlative, please see the article about this subject.

When using these forms in a sentence, one generally places the adjective before the noun it modifies, as with a pre-nominal adjective:

  • The faster car of the two won the race.
  • Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world.

However, in some cases, a comparison is made:

  • The car is faster than the bike.

Now, although the car is faster, the post-nominal placement is used to make the comparison.

  • The bike is slower than the car.

Placement can vary according to the context that the speaker or writer wishes to provide or where they desire to place emphasis:

  • The faster car beats the slower bike.

Adjective placement directly after the noun

Finally, adjectives can appear directly after the noun they modify, although this placement is less common in English and is mainly used for specific stylistic or poetic effects in formal or literary writing:

  • The car, red and sleek, sped along the motorway.
  • She received a scholarship, prestigious and hard-earned, to the top university in the country.

This construction is unconventional, but it can be a powerful way to create emphasis on the adjectives themselves in certain contexts.


While adjectives tend to be placed before nouns, there can be stylistic exceptions, either placing them after the noun, or after the linking verb that follows the noun. Sometimes, adjectives are further confused with adverbs, which are words that describe verbs (the action words) in a sentence and follow a different set of rules. For more information on adverbs and the other parts of speech, please see the article on these.


Börjars, Kersti, and others. Introducing English Grammar, 2nd edn (Routledge, 2010)

Burton-Roberts, Noel. Analysing Sentences: An Introduction to English Syntax, 4th edn (Routledge, 2016)

Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 3rd edn (Cambridge University Press, 2019)

Dreyer, Benjamin. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style (Penguin Random House, 2020)

Huddleston, Rodney, and others. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Parrott, Martin. Grammar for English Language Teachers, 2nd edn (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Quirk, Randolph, and others. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, reprint edn (Pearson, 2011)

Seely, John. Oxford A – Z of Grammar & Punctuation (Oxford University Press, 2020)

New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors (Oxford University Press, 2005)


  1. Hey what a great post you have here!
    I really like the topic you have chosen of this site, it is really helpful especially to those who are just learning English or it isn’t their first language. 

    It makes it much easier to explain to others as well since I get a little mixed up often too. A great site to visit to help with homework too!

    Thanks again and have a great day!

    • Thank you so much, Sariyah, for your comments. So glad you will find this helpful with your homework. Feel free to get in touch with any questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *