Coordinate Adjectives | Examples & Definition

Adjectives updated on  March 28, 2024 4 min read

Coordinate adjectives are two or more adjectives of equal importance that describe the same noun or pronoun. Coordinate adjectives are separated by either commas or the word “and.”

Coordinate adjectives examples
He’s a happy, healthy baby.
Giuditta and Carlos have had a long, challenging, and odd relationship.
The stray dog was asleep in an old and weathered cardboard box.

What are coordinate adjectives?

Like other adjectives, coordinate adjectives are words that are used to describe or modify a noun or pronoun. They work together to give insight into different aspects of the noun or pronoun.

Coordinate adjectives are independent of one another, so they do not impact one another’s meaning.

To indicate that adjectives are coordinated and equally important, they are separated by a comma or “and.” If there are more than two adjectives in a list, “and” can be used before the final adjective, or it can be omitted as a stylistic choice.

Coordinate adjectives with commas

Coordinate adjectives with “and”

Giuditta is a passionate, fearless, strategic leader.

Superman is strong and righteous.

Carlos has a hands-on, direct approach to management.

The bright, warm sunshine felt nice after the long and dark winter.

The rain dropped into a rusty, brownish pail.

In the heat, having a swim is refreshing, fun, and relaxing.

Identifying coordinate adjectives

A key feature of coordinate adjectives is their independence from one another.

Because these adjectives each modify the noun in their own way, they can be moved around or even taken out of the sentence without impacting the other adjectives or making the sentence ungrammatical.

Coordinate adjectives examples

Samantha is confident and assertive.
Samantha is assertive and confident.

Those cookies were delicious, healthy,and filling.
Those cookies were healthy, filling, and delicious.
Those cookies were filling and healthy.

While removing a coordinate adjective from the sentence does not change the meaning of the other adjectives or make a sentence ungrammatical, it does change the information the reader has about the noun.

In the final example above, the reader still knows the cookies were healthy and filling, but they can’t know that the cookies were also delicious.

Coordinate and cumulative adjectives

Coordinate adjectives are distinct from cumulative adjectives (also known as non-coordinate adjectives) both grammatically and in terms of meaning.

Whereas coordinate adjectives are equally important to describing the noun or pronoun and are independent of each other, cumulative adjectives rely on one another for meaning and must be written in a certain order according to the category of the adjectives. Additionally, cumulative adjectives are not separated by a comma because they form a single modifier for the noun or pronoun.
Coordinate and cumulative adjectives examples
The dusty black hat was rather ugly.
The woman I met was tall, black-haired, and friendly.
Last weekend, we went to that expensive, beautiful movie theater to see a marathon of gruesome R-rated films.

To test whether adjectives are coordinated or cumulative, ask the following questions:

  • Can you rearrange the adjectives’ order without changing their meaning?
  • Is there a comma between the adjectives?
  • Can you replace the comma with “and”?

The order of cumulative adjectives cannot be changed without altering the way they modify the noun or pronoun, and adding “and” between the adjectives will make the sentence sound awkward.

Cumulative adjective examples
Last weekend, we saw a marathon of R-rated gruesome films.
Last weekend, we saw a marathon of gruesome and R-rated films.
Last weekend, we saw a marathon of gruesome R-rated films.

Adjective order

Adjectives follow a general order when preceding a noun depending on their category. Cumulative adjectives, as a type of attributive adjective, must follow this order to sound natural. This order is generally as follows:

  • Determiner (e.g., “a,” “the,” “one”)
  • Opinion (e.g., “expensive,” “silly,” “pretty”)
  • Size (e.g., “miniscule,” “large,” “petite”)
  • Shape (e.g., “rectangular,” “diamond,” “curly”)
  • Age (e.g., “young,” “40-year-old,” “elderly”)
  • Color (e.g., “blue,” “magenta,” “chartreuse”)
  • Origin, nationality, religion, or ethnicity (e.g., “Zimbabwean,” “solar,” “Zoroastrian”)
  • Material (e.g., “plastic,” “linen,” “rubber”)

Cumulative adjective word order
The clownfish searched the blue deep sea for his son.
The clownfish searched the deep blue sea for his son.

The adjective category of size comes before color, so adjectives related to size precede colors.

Note
While the order of these adjectives is generally consistent, it may be switched to create a specific effect. This is especially true in creative writing.
Generally, however, using the incorrect adjective order will result in a sentence that sounds unnatural and awkward. The QuillBot Grammar Checker can help you to catch these mistakes.

Coordinate adjectives do not work together to modify the noun, so their order does not impact them individually. Additionally, coordinate adjectives can be adjectives from the same category (e.g., “that expensive, beautiful movie theater”), whereas cumulative adjectives are from different categories.

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Do you want to know more about reasoning, rhetoric, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


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How can I use commas with coordinate adjectives?

Commas can be used to separate coordinate adjectives (e.g., “dangerous, scary places”).

When you have a list of more than two coordinate adjectives, the final adjective can be separated in the following ways:

  • An Oxford comma (i.e., a comma followed by “and” as in “dangerous, scary, and faraway places”)
  • “And” without a preceding comma (e.g., “dangerous, scary and faraway places”)
  • A comma without “and” (e.g., “dangerous, scary, faraway places”)

How can I distinguish between coordinate and cumulative adjectives?

Coordinate adjectives are independent of one another, so their order doesn’t matter (e.g., “beautiful and smart” is the same as “smart and beautiful”). Additionally, coordinate adjectives use a comma or “and.”

In contrast, cumulative adjectives must follow a particular order to sound correct and do not use a comma or “and” (e.g., “The tall Dutch tourist bumped her head on the doorframe”).

How do I know if two adjectives are coordinate adjectives?

You can test whether adjectives are coordinated by reversing their order or adding “and” between them to see if the sentence still makes sense. Consider the following examples:

  • Paulette was proud of her sporty, sleek car.
  • Paulette was proud of her sleek, sporty car.
  • Paulette was proud of her sleek and sporty car.

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Alexandra Rongione

Alexandra has a master’s degree in literature and cultural studies. She has taught English as a foreign language for a range of levels and ages and has also worked as a literacy tutor.

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