What Are Coordinate Adjectives? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on August 30, 2023

Are you curious about coordinate adjectives? Would you like to learn more about them and understand how to use them in your sentences? Look no further! This article will teach you all of that and more.

In short:

  •  Coordinate adjectives are a series of two or more adjectives that modify the same noun. They make sense no matter which order you place them in.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Coordinate Adjectives?

The term 'coordinate adjectives' is used to refer to a series of two or more adjectives used in the same sentence to modify the same noun.

  • Adjectives, as you may know, modify a noun by providing details about its qualities. This could be a detail about size, shape, age, value, or a number of other things.

To learn more about adjectives in general, check out this article.

Anyways, coordinate adjectives are no different. But what makes them stand out is the fact they use several in a row. All the adjectives in the sequence are of equal value. Here's an example,

How are you on this warm, sunny day? 

The adjectives 'warm' and 'sunny' both modify the noun 'day.' You cou could reverse their order, and the sentence would still make sense:

How are you on this sunny, warm day? 

You could also remove the comma or replace it with the word 'and.'

How are you on this warm sunny day? 

How are you on this warm and sunny day? 

Which of the three styles you use (comma, no comma, 'and') depends on your writing style and is completely up to you. That's the beauty of coordinate adjectives.

In fact, adding the word 'and' between two coordinate adjectives is a great trick if you want to check to make sure they are coordinate adjectives and not cumulative (more on those later). If you can do it and the sentence makes sense, they're coordinate adjectives. If the sentence no longer makes sense, they're not.

Coordinate vs Cumulative Adjectives

Cumulative adjectives are also adjectives you find in a succession of one another, but they can't be placed in just any order like coordinate adjectives can. As their name indicates, cumulative adjectives grow in importance the closer they get to the noun.

Here's an example:

How are you on this warm summer day?

You can't reverse the order of the two adjectives 'warm' and 'summer;' the sentence would no longer make sense. Let's try it.

How are you on this summer warm day?

Not convinced? Let's try the trick where we put the word 'and' in between them.

How are you on this warm and summer day?

That doesn't work at all. The reason is that technically, these two adjectives aren't both modifying the same noun. Actually, 'warm' modifies 'summer,' and 'summer' modifies 'day.'

So that's how coordinate and cumulative adjectives are different. It's important to know how to differentiate them so you'll know how to use and punctuate them correctly when you use them in your writing.

Never separate cumulative adjectives with a comma.

Coordinate Adjectives vs Compound Nouns

Compound nouns can be confused with a modifier followed by a noun, especially if it's an open compound (two separate words).

Take a look at the following sentence, for example:

Sam and Lou are getting married in the old town hall.

Sam and Lou aren't getting married in the hall that's in the old town. They are getting married in the town hall that's old. Because 'town hall' is a noun in its own right, and the adjective 'old' modifies it. It's just confusing because 'town hall' is a noun made of two words. But that's the nature of compound nouns.

Here's another example:

Let's get a vegetarian hot dog. 

The only adjective here is 'vegetarian.' Yes, 'hot' is usually an adjective, but in this context, it's part of the compound noun 'hot dog.' It's not a dog that's hot. It isn't even a dog that's vegetarian. It's a hot dog that's vegetarian.

So, when you're constructing your sentences or reading other people's work, make sure you don't confuse compound nouns with modifiers in front of a noun.

  • Adding a modifier before a compound noun does not make them coordinate adjectives.
  • Additionally, there should never be a comma or the word 'and' between the two words that make up a compound noun or between an adjective and the compound noun it modifies.

To be sure, let's run the 'and' test.

Sam and Lou are getting married in the old town and hall.

Let's get a vegetarian hot and dog. 

I'm sure you'll agree these sentences sound like utter nonsense. That's your evidence that they are not cumulative adjectives.


Now we've covered the stuff you really need to know, let's take a look at some examples of coordinate adjectives as they might appear in full sentences.

We feasted on the juicy, ripe strawberries.

He's a funny young man.

Look at the majestic grey rhino.

She ate the whole entire cake!

Don't press the big round red button.

I saw an unusual, beautiful chest of drawers at the antique store.

He had a dark, unsettling, vengeful look in his eyes. 

He's a bored and lonely man.

They had surprising and unexpected news.

A cute, lost, scared fox has taken refuge in my garden.

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on coordinate adjectives. I hope it answered all your questions and helped you feel more confident in using them.

Let's summarize everything we've covered today:

  • Coordinate adjectives are sets of two or more adjectives that work together to modify the same noun.
  • Each adjective in a coordinate set are of equal value and can be placed in any order.
  • You can choose to use a comma, the word 'and,' or nothing at all to separate each adjective.
  • They are not to be confused with cumulative adjectives, which are not equal in value and must be placed in a specific order.
  • Look out for compound nouns, which can often look like a modifier and a noun combined, but are, in actual fact, just one and the same noun.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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