Coordinate and cumulative adjectives

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Coordinate adjective and cumulative adjectives are parts of speech that have different grammar rules. We will define the coordinate adjective and the cumulative adjective and how to treat them, examine how to identify them, and look at some examples of their use in sentences.

Coordinate adjectives modify a noun. Coordinate adjectives are two or more adjectives listed before a noun that may be placed in any order without changing the meaning of the sentence:

I like the clean, breezy taste of that toothpaste.

I like the breezy, clean taste of that toothpaste.

Changing the order of the adjectives clean and breezy does not change the meaning of the sentence, so these are coordinate adjectives. Note that coordinate adjectives require commas. Here’s another example and another way to determine coordinate adjectives:

The chilly, blustery day made me yearn for hot cocoa.

The chilly and blustery day made me yearn for hot cocoa.

It is possible to put the word and between coordinate adjectives and still have a grammatically correct sentence.

Cumulative adjectives modify a noun by building meaning. Cumulative adjectives are two or more adjectives listed before a noun that must be placed in a specific order to convey the meaning of the sentence:

The waiter brought a tall baby chair.

The waiter brought a baby tall chair.

As you can see, the first sentence contains cumulative adjectives. The word baby must be next to the noun it modifies, chair, to make sense. If the cumulative adjectives are reversed, the entire meaning of the sentence changes. Note that when using cumulative adjectives, no comma is used.

The beautiful Dutch doors opened into the backyard.

The Dutch beautiful doors opened into the backyard.

In the above sentence, a Dutch door is a particular type of door, and the adjective Dutch must appear immediately before the word door to convey the intended meaning of the sentence.

Choosing the order of cumulative adjectives is confusing for many people but there are specific rules governing the order of cumulative adjectives. This list will help when ordering your adjectives:

Opinion or quality – such as beautiful or priceless
Number or quantity – such as few, an or three
Size – such as gargantuan or petite
Shape – such as square or oblong
Age – such as young or aged
Color – such as red, pink or ash
Origin – such as Greek or Dutch
Material – such as wooden or plastic
Qualifier – the qualifier is an adjective that denotes the item’s type or purpose, some examples are evening bag and cooking pot

The order of adjectives can vary slightly from style guide to style guide.

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