Adjectival Order?

hotsexyangelprincess

WMD
Registered Senior Member
The big, red ball bounced vs The red, big ball bounced.

For most of us the former sounds correct and the latter wrong/unusual. Why is this? Are there rules?
 
The big, red ball bounced vs The red, big ball bounced.

For most of us the former sounds correct and the latter wrong/unusual. Why is this? Are there rules?

......because size matters? :confused:

Actually, you raise a very good question and the former sentence is indeed more familiar to the ear than the latter.

Perhaps Fraggle or someone with a similar background in language has an answer to offer. I cannot recall any specific rules that apply where the order of adjectives is concerned.

An interesting little ponder... :cool:
 
Also consider:

Which one of the balls bounced?
- The big one.
This one looks pretty big.
- No the big red one. It went right over the fence.

vs

Which ball do you want to take to the beach?
- One of the big ones, I think it's red.
I found a blue big ball and a blue little ball. Wait, here's a red little ball.
- Hey where's my red big ball?

It occurred to me that in Old English they had compound words like longhouse or something.

So maybe we have this in our speech DNA, to link the adjective nearest the noun to form a new kind of idea, leaving it in the nominative format, so to speak.

Then from there we attach more descriptors, almost always in front, to leave the most important idea last, where it gets accented by being last and freshest in the memory.

All pure speculation and maybe not at all what you were seeking.
 
The big, red ball bounced vs The red, big ball bounced. For most of us the former sounds correct and the latter wrong/unusual. Why is this? Are there rules?
Yes, there are "rules," although since they're not usually written down they fall more under the category of "the syntactic structure of the language." As I recall, Strunk & White alludes to them but doesn't go into much detail. I don't have a copy at home and the online version seems to be an urban legend.

Every editor or English teacher will tell you that an adjective describing size comes before an adjective describing age, which comes before an adjective describing color, which comes before an adjective describing material or construction: The big old red wooden house. There are probably a couple of other categories of adjectives I'm not remembering that also fit into a standard hierarchy. But beyond that, this syntactic hierarchy seems to be something that we just "know," the way we "know" that you found this website on the internet, not in the internet.

If the adjectives do indeed fit into a hierarchy then you're free to concatenate them because everyone will understand your sentence. But if not, then you have to use commas: "The big, expensive, dilapidated, beautiful old red wooden house."
It occurred to me that in Old English they had compound words like longhouse or something.
So do we: doghouse, footstool, birdseed, lawnmower, housewife, surfboard. The newer the compound, the more likely we are to write it with a space (high school, toilet paper), but it still functions grammatically as a single word.

This is a common word-building engine throughout the Germanic group of Indo-European languages. The Germans themselves take it to an entertaining extreme with foot-long compounds of four or five words, but we shove pairs of words together instinctively all the time.

Compound words are a hallmark of the analytic languages, which express the relationships among ideas by simply putting the words that describe them one on top of the other. Chinese is the most famous example of this. Virtually every thought is expressed by a compound of two or three individual morphemes, and many have more: "motorcycle" is ji qi jiao ta che, "gas engine leg propel vehicle," a second-generation compound of "motor-bicycle."

Most of the Indo-European languages have at least a modest ability to form compound words, although few match German or Chinese (which of course is Sino-Tibetan, not Indo-European). Latin and Greek had it, and we have not only inherited thousands of their compounds but we make up new ones like "television," Greek "distance" plus Latin "sight." But the modern Romance languages have largely lost the feature, preferring to link their words with prepositions or grammatical inflections--except of course for using the same made-up Latin-Greek compounds we use.
So maybe we have this in our speech DNA, to link the adjective nearest the noun to form a new kind of idea, leaving it in the nominative format, so to speak.
This is facilitated by the fact that our nouns don't actually have case declensions: there's no difference between nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, vocative, etc.

Only our pronouns retain a stripped down three-case paradigm: he/his/him, they/their/them. You can call the apostophe-S possessive ending on a noun the genitive case, but it's a faint echo of a true declension system, especially since it breaks down completely in the plural except in writing: birds' versus birds versus bird's.
 
Slightly parochial: The big red ball bounced. Cornell U. sports teams have the nickname big red. So it could be interpreted to mean a Cornell ball bounced.
 
A confusing description: "quality free video". (Quality free) video or (quality) free video?
Of course in speech we would use non-phonemic sounds to resolve the ambiguity. A "quality (with a falling pitch on the last syllable, followed by a tiny pause) free video" is a free video of quality. A "quality (with no drop in pitch and no pause) free video" is a video free of quality.

Since it's unusual to use the phrase "quality free" to mean "free of quality," if we saw that phrase in writing most of us would automatically assume the first interpretation. Most of the remaining group would reach the same conclusion, after showing off their brilliance and sense of humor by giggling over the ambiguity. Of course all SciForums members fall into this more elite demographic. ;)

If our intended meaning is the second one, we would banish the ambiguity by observing the common convention of using a hyphen and writing "quality-free," as in "hands-free" and so many other compounds. Remember that the primary purpose of punctuation is to fill in for the missing pauses, pitch, tone, volume and other non-phonemic sounds in written transcription.
 
When in doubt, ask Wiki:

In many languages, attributive adjectives usually occur in a specific order. In general, the adjective order in English is:

1. quantity or number
2. quality or opinion
3. size
4. age
5. shape
6. color
7. proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin, or material)
8. purpose or qualifier



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adjective#Adjective_order
 
In general, the adjective order in English is:
1. quantity or number
2. quality or opinion
3. size
4. age
5. shape
6. color
7. proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin, or material)
8. purpose or qualifier
Great, thanks!
Five gas-guzzling elephantine old long red American family sedans.​
I think quality and size can be reversed more than some of those other positions. We're likely to say "a small ugly house" or "a big stupid man."
 
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