Monday, May 30, 2011

Adjective Order in English

Attributive adjectives usually precede nouns in a specific order. English speakers know that "new wooden table" is acceptable but "wooden new table" is not. They also know that "big red hat" sounds correct but "red big hat" does not. Though they may not be familiar with the rule for adjective order in English, they know which order sounds best on the basis of intuition.

English adjectives usually precede nouns in the following order: opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material and purpose. However, speakers usually do not use too many adjectives in a phrase because this can be difficult to process. Opinion adjectives such as "beautiful" and "exciting" precede factual adjectives.

Here are examples of adjective phrases with different kinds of adjectives:

1. I bought a nice black silk tie.
2. He has a beautiful new red sports car.
3. You must try these delicious dark Belgian chocolates.
4. They have a comfortable long brown leather sofa.
5. She has gorgeous long curly black hair.

This adjective order applies to adjectives which precede a noun. If they follow, the adjective order is more flexible. It is also possible to use a relative clause such as "I bought a nice silk tie which is black." Sentence 3 uses a different adjective order when the adjectives follow the noun: "These Belgian chocolates are dark and delicious." Here the adjective "dark" precedes "delicious." Adjective order is relatively fixed for attributive adjectives but rather flexible for predicate ones.

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