Order Please, Mr. Adjective

Not so long ago I caught a bit of a podcast from Mignon Fogarty, also known as Grammar Girl, talking about the correct order of multiple adjectives in an adjectival phrase. (I know. Sounds like a wild party, but let’s try to focus here.) When using more than one adjective to modify a noun—and for the purposes of didactics, let’s ignore the fact that you probably don’t want to do that most of the time—how do we decide what order to put them in?

Most native speakers have little difficulty with this task. We tend, without even thinking about it, to follow the same basic order for the most common types of adjectives:

Opinion
Size
Age
Shape
Color
Origin
Material
Purpose

Most of these are second nature to us. We would never refer to “a yellow, stupid shirt” (color before opinion) or “an Armenian, old carpet-seller” (origin before age). These examples just sound wrong. There is some give and take—shape and color can sometimes go either way—but the basic litany is pretty well fixed. We might refer to “a dismal, mud-grey, slack-shouldered, American, polyester leisure suit,” (opinion, color, shape, origin, material, purpose) but surely never “a polyester, mud-grey, American, slack-shouldered, dismal leisure suit” unless purely for comedic purposes. Continue reading “Order Please, Mr. Adjective”