Thursday, 4 September 2008

AAE Q150: order of adjectives

Hi Matt,

I'd like to ask you about order of adjectives in sentence. In Czech, when we have two blue shirts and one is dirty, we say "the dirty blue shirt". When we have two dirty shirts and one is blue, we say "the blue dirty shirt". The more outstanding attribute can be emphasised by moving to the beginning. But at school I was learnt that English has this constant order:

number -> judgement -> size, length, height -> age -> colour -> origin -> material -> purpose

So, in our case, English would always say "the dirty blue shirt" (since "dirty" is a judgement?) without a possibility to emphasise one of attributes? Is it really so strict?



Thanks for your question.

I would say that it is possible to emphasise one of the attributes if you need to differentiate between similar objects. Referring back to your example, if there were two or more dirty shirts and one of them was blue it is possible to refer to this one as "the blue dirty shirt".



Susan WB said...

The thing about English rules is that people love to break them, especially native speakers.

If you correctly stressed "blue" in the phrase "a blue dirty shirt" no one would think your sentence odd; but if you didn't stress the word "blue" then it would sound out of place.

Another way people get around this is to say something like "The dirty shirt that's blue."

nick said...

or you could leave the "correct" order and just as well emphasis blue..

the dirty blue shirt.

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Anonymous said...

If all the shirts are dirty, do you need to say "dirty blue shirt"? Just say "the blue shirt"