Interesting that you mention this, Copyright. I was thinking about that as well, but I thought I had learned at some point that an adverb doesn’t [necessarily?] modify all of the coordinate adjectives that follow; unfortunately I wasn’t able to find anything in writing to support that. In the example above, however, it didn’t make much sense to me that “rather” would modify “freezing” (“it was a rather freezing day” sounds a bit awkward to my ear).
And take a different example: The previously famous, intelligent, cross-eyed actor made an unexpected comeback when…. You wouldn’t want "previously" to modify more than "famous"? Then again, maybe it has to do with different classes of adverbs I'll keep searching!
I agree with Copyright.
I think that the adverb applies to both adjectives in all of the following examples: He was rather nervous and irritable.
The previously nervous and irritable patient had been transformed.
He looked rather old and fat.
The day was extremely cold and wet.
Your example: The day was rather rainy and freezing.
is an interesting one because "freezing" is a non-scalar adjective: we don't say "rather freezing" or "very freezing". The sentence therefore sounds awkward to my ear because there is a clash between grammar and logic.
Are you saying that the adverb placed in front of several coordinate adjectives always modifies each of the subsequent adjectives? It is about to drive me crazy that I cannot find anything (in grammar texts, google searches) that seems to address this very problem, although, as I mentioned above, I seem to have a recollection, albeit very vague, of having read/learned something about this earlier.
I agree that in your examples it seems to work well that way but you also use mainly "adverbs of degree", like "rather", and "extremely" (which may be easier to append to any adjective). It is not difficult to come up with examples where it is complete nonsense to have the adverb modify every subsequent, coordinate adjective: "We didn't want to buy the badly damaged, old house, which we had first looked at..." or take my other example above in post #5. I am not saying you are wrong, but it clearly doesn't work all the time, and I would be curious to know what is considered "grammatically correct" and what the specific guidelines are (if there are any)
It was a rather wet and cold day in late January.
Generally read as rather <wet and cold>.
It was a rather wet, cold day in late January.
Generally read as <rather wet> and cold.
It was a rather wet, rather cold day in late January.
Removes all ambiguity.
As we add more adjectives we add to the ambiguity:
It was a rather wet and cold and windy day in late January.
Generally read as rather <wet and cold and windy>.
It was a rather wet, cold, windy day in late January.
Generally read as <rather wet>, cold and windy.
In other words, as a rule of thumb, I would say that the presence of the coordinator "and" tends to make the intensifying adverb apply to all the adjectives, whereas in the absence of "and" it tends to apply only to the first. I say "tends to" because I am sure that the convention is not universally observed. If you want your meaning to be quite clear then you have to spell it out.
It was a rather wet, cold, and windy day in late January.
This corresponds to the original example, and it is the most problematic, but I would tend to read it in the same way as "rather wet and cold and windy" above. It is problematic because it is unclear how far back the "and" is projected. It might be interpreted as: It was not only a rather wet but also a cold and windy day in late January. .. especially if there had been no comma after "cold".
@ pertinax; thanks so much for your reply with additional examples!
[In other words, as a rule of thumb, I would say that the presence of the coordinator "and" tends to make the intensifying adverb apply to all the adjectives/QUOTE pertinax]
This is how I see it as well, although grammatically speaking it probably doesn’t make much sense, as the coordinate adjectives when separated by commas (which is where we have the more ambiguous situations in your examples) are characterized by the fact that the commas can be replaced by “and”.
Now, back to the original sentence by zhaobb: [It was a rather rainy, windy, freezing day/QUOTE, zhaobb] which looks a lot like this example of yours:
[It was a rather wet, cold, windy day in late January.
Generally read as <rather wet>, cold and windy. /QUOTE, pertinax]
From this and other examples that you give, I would deduce that you would read zhaobb’s sentence as
<rather rainy> , (and) windy and freezing day… i.e. “rather” modifying only “rainy”, in which case we are in complete agreement (please see post # 2)
But as you say, this all seems quite ambiguous