Order of adjectives [fair, long, curly hair + others]

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Alba, Feb 18, 2005.

  1. Alba

    Alba Member

    Spain, Spanish, Catalan

    I need someone clarifies me:

    1. Has the order of the adjectives some importance?
    2. In that case, what is it?

    - I have fair, long, curly hair, o
    - I have long, curly, fair hair ... ? :confused:

    - I have big, light brown eyes, o
    - I have light brown and big eyes, ... ?

    Can anybody gives me an example of a physical description? :eek:

  2. lauranazario

    lauranazario Moderatrix

    Puerto Rico
    Español puertorriqueño & US English
    Hi Alba...

    If you want a precise explanation of the order of adjectives in regards to English grammar... I'd have to move this thread so the "experts" in the English-Only forum can address your inquiry. Please confirm and I'll transfer the thread over there.

  3. Alba

    Alba Member

    Spain, Spanish, Catalan

    I need this explanation! Thanks
  4. VenusEnvy

    VenusEnvy Senior Member

    Maryland, USA
    English, United States
    I wish I could anser your questions with expertise, but I am not a grammarian. :( I only know what sounds good to my ears.

    Here, there are really only two adjectives: big and light brown. (Here, light brown is a color, not two words)

    It sounds better to place the smaller word first, then finish with the compound adjective.

    I have long, curly, brown hair. My eyes are dark and almond-shaped. My cheeks are round and rosy. My lips are plump, moist and kissable! :p

    I hope that someone else may be better at explaining this. :)
  5. Sharon

    Sharon Senior Member

    United States, English
    Here are some rules for the order of adjectives. It's probably best to not use more than two or three adjectives between the determiner and the noun.

    The first word in the list is called a determiner.
    A, an, the, any count word, his, hers, my...I'm probably missing a few.

    The second word is an evaluation or opinion.
    Words like lovely, loud, strange, sloppily, or famous.

    Next comes physical description.
    In this order, you describe : Size, Shape, Age, then Color

    Then Nationality

    Then Religion

    Then Material

    And lastly your noun.

    "A lazy big old black cat"
    "Many beautiful old Roman Catholic brick buildings"
    "Her small new blue wooden table"

    I've done a little hunting, and here are a few online links to the rules of adjective placement.

    This one places age before shape, and also lists "Purpose" between the material and noun, for example "leather riding gloves" or "metal mixing bowl."

    This one places shape before age, and also adds "Condition" between shape and age.

    Hope that helps a bit.
    Sharon. :)
  6. VenusEnvy

    VenusEnvy Senior Member

    Maryland, USA
    English, United States
    Ahhh, this explain "long, curly, brown hair".

    Thanks, Sharon! :)
  7. Sharon

    Sharon Senior Member

    United States, English
    Venus Envy,

    It does explain the "long, curly, brown hair"...but is "long" used as a opinion/evaluation...or as a size? :D My mother says that her hair is too long if it touches her collar. I, on the other hand, cannot consider anyone to have "long" hair, unless it is a foot and a half in length, or longer!! :p

    Maybe I'm just...splitting hairs!
    Hee, hee, hee !!

  8. Nick

    Nick Senior Member

    Western USA
    USA, English
    Just so you know -- we never order our adjectives in a specific fashion. No English teacher would ever mark "brown curly hair" wrong and correct it to "curly brown hair", no matter how formal the paper was. I'd never heard of this order of adjectives in my life except for when Sharon posted it previously in another thread.

    the nice old lady == the old nice lady
  9. VenusEnvy

    VenusEnvy Senior Member

    Maryland, USA
    English, United States
    When you say "we", who do you mean? just curious . . .
  10. Nick

    Nick Senior Member

    Western USA
    USA, English
    I mean that no Americans do this. It is not taught in schools, and I've never seen it in a grammar book either. I've never heard of this in my life. Ordering adjectives a certain way is completely trivial. Will we be ordering our adverbs next?
  11. Benjy

    Benjy Senior Member

    Milton Keynes, UK
    English - English
    even if you dont realise it, you order your adjectives all the time.

    big fat ugly lady (ITS JUST AN EXAMPLE ;))

    try saying ugly fat big lady.. it just sounds wrong
  12. Nick

    Nick Senior Member

    Western USA
    USA, English
    "fat ugly lady" sounds just the same as "ugly fat lady"

    Order doesn't matter.
  13. Benjy

    Benjy Senior Member

    Milton Keynes, UK
    English - English
    i'm glad that you agree with me =[

    click here and learn about english
  14. Nick

    Nick Senior Member

    Western USA
    USA, English
    The page uses "colour". End of story.

    She is a young, energetic woman.
    She is an energetic, young woman.
    Seriously, does anyone think it is better to say one of these over the other?
  15. Benjy

    Benjy Senior Member

    Milton Keynes, UK
    English - English
    i could go and pull up any number of sites to back me up on this.. but i see that it would probably be wasting my time. you are right! there is no order! and if you spell it "colour" you dont speak english!
  16. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    I would put long first, but I have no reason. Curly and fair don't make any difference to me. In this area, I would go by feel, what's comfortable to me.
    I would not use "and". But there are other solutions: My eyes are big and light brown. The first, "I have big, light brown eyes" sounds fine. There may be rules about adjectives, how many, where you put commas, but I don't know them.
    I've never heard of it either, but I would not say it does not exist or is not used by any teacher. I WOULD go "out on a limb" and say that experienced writers would tend to ignore such rules. :)
  17. Sharon

    Sharon Senior Member

    United States, English
    Don't be mad, Nick (I think) learned this without knowing that he learned it.

    Nick, does it occur to you that in either sentence, "fat" or "ugly" could be an opinion, or evaluation, so therefore it would go first? On the same note, "energetic" and "young" could also be an opinion or evaluation. I think that you learned this without knowing that you learned it - sometime around the time they were reading you stories about "the little red wagon" instead of "the red little wagon." What is the purpose of Dr. Seuss's "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" if not to teach the order of adjectives??

    Also, if you would, please explain this. Are you saying that the English don't speak English?

  18. Edwin

    Edwin Senior Member

    Tampa, Florida, USA
    USA / Native Language: English
    Be careful about using expressions like ''We never''. You may not be aware of it, but native speakers of English have been programmed to do a lot of things that we are not consciously aware of. (At least that's my humble opinion. :) )

    I never heard of such rules either, but I do think that curly brown hair sounds more natural to me than brown curly hair and also nice old lady sounds more natural to me thanold nice lady. No one ever taught me this but that's how I feel about it.

    In fact most of us learn the grammar and common collocations of our native languages by osmosis and not by being directly told. We go by how it sounds not by rules.

    This is what irritates me about learning a foreign language as an adult. Even uneducated people and small children use complicated expressions and grammatical rules with no apparent effort that I must struggle to learn.
  19. Artrella Banned

    In the book " A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language" by Quirk et al (Longman, 1999, Great Britain) you can find a vast explanation as regards relative sequence of premodifiers ( adjective order). If you have the possibility of reading this book, go to page 1337, point 17.113 and you will find the rules that are being discussed in this thread.

    I am not going to write them here because: 1) it's extremely long 2) the language used there is quite technical and I think it is not appropriate for this forum.

    In the book "Practical English Usage" by Michael Swan (Oxford,1995, OUP) on page 13, point 14 it is stated that there is an order for adjectives before nouns
    Just to summarize them, I will give you the main points.

    1)Adjectives (or modifying nouns) of colour, origin, material and purpose usually go in that order.


    --Red Spanish leather riding boots
    A brown German ----- beer mug

    2) Other adjectives usually go before words of colour, origin, material and purpose. It is impossible to give exact rules, but adjectives of size, length and height often come first.


    the round glass table (NOT the glass round table)
    a big, modern brick house (NOT a modern,big brick house)

    3) Adjectives which express judgements or attitudes usually come before all others. Examples are lovely, definite, pure, absolute, extreme, perfect, wonderful, silly.


    A lovely, long, cool drink
    Who's that silly fat man over there?

    4) Numbers usually go before adjectives. First, next and last go before one, two, three


    six large eggs
    the second bigh shock
    the first three days (more common than "the three first days")
  20. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    BINGO! Ain't it a witch? :)

    Edwin, I think the "rules" are an attempt to analyze what we do more than things we must follow, but inevitably it gets reversed. Again and again I've read of grammarians either stating that something is so, when it was never a rule, then having this "pronouncement" taken as the "Word of God". Suddenly every "fledgling grammarian" gets "on the band wagon", and soon no one remembers that the rule came out of nowhere and was just one man's (person's) opinion.

    What languages are you struggling with? I take some pride in mangling several, on different levels. :)
  21. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    I read through what you posted, and naturally you can't post all the rules. I'm a "voracious" reader, and at the end of the day, when I'm too tired to read, I often listen to books. I actually prefer book-recordings to movies most of the time, so this also gives me a chance to "key in" on the pronunciation of words by readers from the US and the UK. You may be familiar with a famous quotation, "“England & America are two countries divided by a common language". I've heard this attributed to Winston Churchill, but he may have merely made an existing saying more famous.

    I'd like to make a point: English defies rules because we've never had any central body assigned given the authority to say what is right and what is wrong. There have been many grammars written. The history of grammarians and there books telling us how to use English is a fascinating study in itself. You are probably aware that since approximately 1991 a writing reform has taken place in Germany. The has been controversy over this, and I'm neutral about the changes (many seem good), but can you imagine anyone saying, "Okay, starting in the year ---- everyone is going to change the spelling of these words…"

    Because that's exactly what happened. "Duden" is the name that is always linked to such changes in Germany. I don't know if such central bodies exist in other countries.

    On the other hand, what is so horrible and also marvelous about English is the lack of any "final word" as to what is right and wrong. Certainly there is a "core of agreement" regarding many areas of our language, but find writers seem to take special pleasure in "thumbing their noses" at rules, writing as they please and breaking many "rules".

    Which brings me to the another point that I think follows from the first: most of the time (not all certainly!) rules are an attempt to explain what we do rather than a truly effective means of explaining why. Most of the examples you gave I would write as they have been shown, purely by feel, but I disagree with a couple:

    I might also write: a long, lovely cool drink. I'm not sure. Perhaps the way shown is better. But IF you are righting a book of rules supporting your own hypotheses about what is right, or what is smooth, aren't you likely to pick examples that support your hypotheses?

    I say this only because I teach my students (in music) all sorts of rules that generally work for beginners and intermediates, and they are necessary (because beginners need guidelines), but I know very well that most of these rules go right out the window in advanced music. In addition, I feel that IF you are advanced enough to understand complicated rules, you probably don't need them. But if you are learning, I truly wonder if you would be able to understand such complicated rules.

    But perhaps you would reach a mid-point, becoming very advance in reading, and then such rules might help in writing. I may be contradicting myself, because I'm just not sure. How much do rules really help? How much is mastering a language ultimately about feel and nothing more?

    An interesting problem!
  22. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    US, English
    Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost (1887): "We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language."

    George Bernard Shaw (According to Reader’s Digest - November 1942; 1951, according to Treasury of Humorous Quotations, Esar & Bentley): "England and America are two countries separated by the same language."

    Winston Churchill was given credit for the line by The Times, 26 January 1987; and by The European, 22 November 1991
  23. Artrella Banned


    Gaer, I liked your post very much. I did not fully understand it, though. I think the last part of your post would be a never-ending discussion, depending on who you are discussing with. A grammarian would say that rules are definitely necessary, a philosopher would not...

    I really is an interesting problem! :thumbsup: :p
  24. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    I don't always understand what I've written myself. :)

    I tend to do a lot of "thinking out loud", and for me it works better if what I'm thinking about it communicated to someone, or even to a group. It allows me to focus. And it's so much nicer to get feedback than to be "stuck in your own head".

    If I said anything that was unclear, please tell me what it was. What I was trying to express was a simple idea, but trying to put it into words seems very hard to me.

    Rules are like crutches. If you throw away a crutch and fall to the ground, you've made an error. If you throw away a crutch because you no longer need it and it's slowing you down, obviously it's the right thing to do. But the exact time to start "walking without crutches" is always a judgment call.

    Almost everything taught in school about what is right and wrong in English probably helps. We tell students not to start a sentence with "but" or "and" because many of them will start 10 or 20 sentences in a row that way. We should try to explain to people the difference between "Whom do you mean?" and "Who do you mean?" because it allows them to make a choice based on many factors. And even if they decide to use "who", as so many of us do, at least they will understand the same difference in other languages, where the difference is NOT a matter of style.

    As for other languages, those of us who do not pick them up very naturally need rules much more than we do in our own language. This is SO true for me. I have no natural ability to mimic what I hear. I can seldom remember more than three or four words in a phrase, and that is with great difficulty. That's why I tend to know many grammatical rules in German. Not because I'm smart. Not because I'm very good in German. I know them because I NEEDED them desperately at first, not only for writing but even for reading, and even now I need them for writing. Rules are a poor substitute for a really keen feel for language, but since I don't have it, I need the rules.

    More confusing? Or less? :)
  25. Benjy

    Benjy Senior Member

    Milton Keynes, UK
    English - English
    that is a really good analogy, gaer :) i'll keep that one tucked away for later use. iithkn what you said really describes pretty well what we have to do as second/third/fourth/etc language learners.. we have our little helps until we can see how the language works without them :)
  26. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    As I read through this thread I had the following, not quite random, thoughts:
    1. There cannot be rules for the order of adjectives! Who would write them or read them?

    2. Following Artrella's substantial post: Ah, so now the question becomes...(see how quickly I dispensed with my first observation?!) "Are these Descriptive or Prescriptive grammar books?" If it's the former, that's well and good. A scholar may do useful work recording and --no pun intended--ordering descriptions of the way a people habitually speak. If, on the other hand, someone is so arrogant as to try--in vain--to tell native speakers how they ought to order their adjectives...that is not cause for alarm, but for amusement.

    3. What's missing throughout this entire thread? A discussion of style and emphasis!

    If I were to say, " wearing a fashionable green polka dot necktie" the emphasis would be on the up-to-date style. However, I might write "wearing a green polka dot fashionable necktie" and consciously shift the emphasis to the color.
    I wouldn't normally do this; it sounds a little awkward. But if I were trying to contrast that tie with the apparel of another character, "wearing a wide old tie with regimental stripes" the order of the adjectives would be important, with each sequence conveying a distinct meaning.

    I think I'll go to the kitchen for a green old sandwich, with delicious, fattening, organic, shredded adjectival parmigiano on it.

  27. Artrella Banned


    Crystal clear Gaer!!! :thumbsup: :p :thumbsup: And...(I LOVE sentences beginning with "and ;) ) I totally agree with you!!! You have to be clear about what do want language for? Just for communicating?? Well, then no rules are necessary!! To go deeply into it and study it the way a linguist will do it? So then you need to know all the rules, but you can close your linguistics book and go to have some coffee with a friend and forget about all those rules and say what you want just for the sake of communication. It will work with or without rules (grammatical rules, of course!)

  28. te gato

    te gato Senior Member

    Calgary, Alberta
    Alberta--TGE (te gato English)
    I agree...
    Everyone has their own way of saying things to try and get their meaning across...We switch words around to try and make it sound better or to describe something better..It might not be BY THE RULES but if the person you are talking to understands you, then there is no harm in breaking the RULES. We are taught since birth how to speak, first by our parents..Who is to say that they conform to the language rules? Then to the schools..Who try and teach the rules of language, what not to put with this, what to..Then throw slang into the mix...I believe that if you understand what is being said, and the other person understands you....Then break the rules. (Until the language police come and get you).
    te gato;)
  29. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    There's a GREAT example of "breaking a rule":

    "Everyone has THEIR own way of saying things…"

    (Instead of: Everyone has HIS own way of saying things…)

    That's enough to get the "language police" coming after you with WMDs. Can't you hear them? :)

    "You can't use 'their' with 'everyone', because 'everyone' is singular, so the pronoun must be 'he'."

    I've read that using "their", as you used it, is a recent "bastardization" of our language. It has to be "he". Period. And that Political Correctness is responsible for people using "their", along with the general decline of the English language.

    I'm no great friend of PC-language, but I did some investigation (not tonight, some time ago). It seems your "everyone…their" usage has been around at least a couple centuries and was used by, among others, the Bronte sisters. Plus a bit of thought about the "consequences" of this problem leads to this:

    "Everyone had a great time at my birthday part, and he also gave me lots of nice presents."

    To me that's the consequence of taking grammar to seriously. :)
  30. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    Well, we know who would WRITE them! :)

    So true, but such a book MIGHT help people learning English as a second language, although I fear the rules themselves would become so complicated, only other grammarians would be able to understand them.
    That's a great point, and I hadn't thought of it at all. We all do just what you mentioned, switch order according to what we want to emphasize, and how could that ever be put in a book?

    Now, let's hope that a war between Prescriptionists and Descriptivists doesn't break out!

  31. te gato

    te gato Senior Member

    Calgary, Alberta
    Alberta--TGE (te gato English)
    Yes I agree....BUT you did understand what I was saying did you not???:D
    WHAT DID YOU CALL ME!!! (Kidding)
    te gato;)
  32. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    There's another thing. For at least two or three centuries different self-appointed "Guardians of the Language" have written grammars books. They've frequently disagreed, and they've had "apostles" who have attempted to enforce various, often conflicting rules :)

    I'm getting the feeling most of the people participating in this discussion don't like to be told what to do!
  33. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    Yes, I DID understand. :) And you used less words. (Let's see if that will start a debate over less vs. fewer) <evil smile>
  34. Alba

    Alba Member

    Spain, Spanish, Catalan

    I've seen my question has been very fruitful, now I can say:

    "I have long, curly, fair hair. My eyes are big and light brown coloured."

    I'm very grateful to you; you can close this thread if you want! ;)
  35. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    I can't see anything wrong with what you wrote, but I would probably write the first sentence a bit differently. I'm waiting to see if anyone else has a similar thought. :)
  36. abc Senior Member

    Vietnam, Vietnamese
    :D Well, what could I say?

    First sentence :arrow:
    "I have long, curly, fair hair." ??

    I have long, curly fair hair.
    I have curly long, fair hair.
    I have fairly long curly hair.
    I have fairly curly long hair.
    I have long, fairly curly hair.
  37. mirandolina

    mirandolina Senior Member

    Padua, Italy
    Scotland - English
    It's not taught because native speakers have it inborn!
    Think about it: would you say "I have a black big dog" or "I have a big black dog".
    Of course you would use the second form. And if the dog is dirty too? "I have a dirty big black dog".
    The main adjective that described the noun (dog) is closest to it, in this case black.
    Then it's a big dog, lastly it's also dirty.
  38. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    That's going to be highly confusing. "Fairly", meaning somewhat, is totally different in meaning from "fair", which probably means "light in color" (guessing), since I would only use "fair" for "skin". :)
  39. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    But I might say: I have a big black dirty dog. To avoid this kind of problem, I might write: My big black dog is dirty. :)
  40. CBFelix

    CBFelix Senior Member

    Following explanations are directly taken from a grammar book published by Cambridge University. (English Grammer In Use-R.Murphy)


    A Sometimes we use two or more adjectives together:
    - My brother lives in a nice new house.
    - ln the kitchen there was a beautiful large round wooden table.

    Adjectives like new/large/round/wooden are (act adjectives. They give us factual information about age, size, colour etc.

    Adjectives like nice / beautiful are opinion adjectives. They tell us what somebody thinks of something or somebody.

    Opinion adjectives usually go before fact adjectives.

    opinion fact
    a nice long summer holiday
    an interesting young man
    delicious hot vegetable soup
    a beautiful large round wooden table

    B Sometimes we use two or more fact adjectives. Very often (but not always) we put fact adjectives in this order:

    1 2 3 4 5
    how how what where what is it
    big? old? colour? from? made of?

    a tall young man (1 ~ 2) a large wooden table (1 ~ 5)
    big blue eyes (1 ~ 3) an old Russian song (2 ~ 4)
    a small black plastic bag (1 ~ 3 ~ 5) an old white cotton shirt (2 ~ 3 ~ 5)

    Adjectives of size and length (big/smal1/tal1/short/long etc. ) usually go before adjectives of shape and width (round/fat/thin/slim/wide etc.):

    a large round table a tall thin girl a long narrow street

    When there are two colour adjectives, we use and:
    a black and white dress a red, white and green flag
    but, a long black dress (not 'a long and black dress')

    C We say 'the first two days', 'the next few weeks' , 'the last ten minutes' etc.:
    I didn't enjoy the first two days of the course. (not 'the two first days')
    They'll be away for the next few weeks. (not 'the few next weeks')
    D We use adjectives after be/get/become/seem:
    - Be careful!
    - I’m tired and I'm getting hungry.
    - As the film went on, it became more and more boring.
    - Your friend seems very nice.

    We also use adjectives to say how somebody/something looks, feels, sounds, tastes or smells:
    - You look tired./ Ifeel tired. I She sounds tired.
    - The dinner smells good.
    - This tea tastes a bit strange.

    But to say how somebody does something you must use an adverb

    - Drive carefully! (not 'Drive careful')
    - Susan plays the piano very weIl. (not 'plays...very good')
  41. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    US, English
    Let me see if I understand this .... because fairly modifies the next word to lessen it. Fairly long hair is shorter than long hair. Fairly curly hair is less curly than curly hair, so which attribute is lessened is defined by the placement of fairly. If fact, that makes it an adverb or something else, not an adjective, right?!?
  42. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    Right. :)

    I meant that "fair" and "fairer" have very different meanings


    pleasing to the eye or mind especially because of fresh, charming, or flawless quality

    not dark : blond

    These meanings would be used for "fair hair".
    fairly (rather, moderatly).

    So they have different meanings. For instance, if you had "fairly fair hair", it would mean that you hair is "rather blond". :)

    Does this help?

  43. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    US, English
    Fairly well :D
  44. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    Great! Then I'm fairly content. [​IMG]
  45. Panpan

    Panpan Senior Member

    Sawbridgeworth, UK
    England, English
    This thread reminds me of that old gag;

    There are only two sorts of girls in (name of rival teams town); Ugly, and fat. And, fat and ugly.

    (Or substitute two sorts of pupil in this school, lazy, and thick etc etc)

    Well it made me smile

  46. Mimi Mahrama New Member

    Spanish - English
    Well, I was looking for the same information, but about adjetives order in physical description, and I found these:

    1. HEIGHT: short, tall
    2. BUILD: plump, stocky, skinny, frail, slim, un/attractively thin
    3. AGE: Young, middle-aged, old, in his teens, in his early/mid/late thirties, baby, child
    4. HAIR: Length (short, long, medium length) + Style(straight, wavy, curly, spiky, balding, bald) + Colour (blond, fair, dark, brown, black, red
    5. FACE: round, oval, square, triangular, with scars/freckles/wrinkles/ pimples
    6. COMPLEXION: to have a sun-tanned/pale complexion
    7. EYES: Size (big = large, small) + Shape (round, almond-shaped, slanted) + Colour
    8. EXTRA FEATURES: has got a beard, wears a moustache, wears glasses
    9. DRESS: Casual (informal), Scruffy(untidy,dirty), Shabby (old), Smart (well, expensively dressed), Neat(carefully dressed)

    See you :)

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