Adjectives are, and should be, used minimally in technical writing. But should you need to use adjectives, it helps to know that there’s an ordering system for them. Many native English speakers probably order their adjectives in the “correct” order even if they were unaware of the ordering. This is because adjectives (their rules, their use, their order) are ingrained in us from the time we learned how to talk. If you speak English as a second language, however, the adjective order may be a bit more confusing.
The commonly accepted order of English adjectives is as follows:
As an example, you would stand out if you said, “I live in the blue large house on Main Street.” While blue and large may be accurate descriptors of your house, the ordering of color before size, according to Standard American English, is off, and so the sentence sounds odd.
Likewise, if you’re an engineer writing about enhanced oil recovery, you wouldn’t say “crude recovery tertiary techniques” because that orders the adjective by quality, purpose, and quantity. Instead, you would say, “tertiary crude recovery techniques,” making the adjective order quantity (tertiary), quality (crude), and purpose (recovery). These adjectives all come together to describe the noun techniques.
If you need help with writing your dissertation, essay, journal article, proposal, or any other technical writing genre, keeping this adjective-ordering list in mind as you write will save you a lot of time and help you become an effective writer and communicator. As a bonus, if you make it a habit to refer to this list, eventually you’ll start to make adjective orders a common and instinctive part of your English usage.
The STEM Writing Institute (SWI) is a great opportunity for English Language Learners to hone their communication skills with our STEM writing workshops and one-on-one consultations. Register for a workshop or inquire about individual consultations today!
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