Adjectival good order

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I'm no fan of the excessive use of adjectives.  More to the point, I'm no fan of the use of adjectives.  This unpreference has grown out of my reading of too many academic papers rendered both prolix and otiose by strings of adjectives that obscure meaning.  In other words, it has grown out of my reading of too many papers using strings of adjectives that obscure meaning.  It's a commonplace to discover just how much adjectives get in the way, and how you can do without them.  Take this passage of gospel poetry and count the adjectives in it:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.

That said, when adjectives are used, it's important to put them in a particular order, otherwise it sounds odd.  Take this sentence:

On holiday I bought a xxxx bowl  – where the xxxx is a string of adjectives :

old   blue   glass   beautiful     rectangular   fruit   French    huge

The question is: what order do you put these words in?


So, what's the sentence?

On holiday I bought an old  blue glass beautiful rectangular fruit French huge bowl.

Hardly.  How about:

On holiday I bought a beautiful old huge rectangular French blue glass fruit bowl.

Sounds reasonable, but this sounds even better:

On holiday I bought a beautiful huge old rectangular blue French glass fruit bowl.

The sounds good because it conforms to the rule, which we all know, but have never learned:

STEM: opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, purpose : NOUN

So, the next time you're composing one of your tediously long strings of adjectives, bear this in mind.


Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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