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Order of adjectives

 

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  #1  
Old June 01, 2009, 02:20 PM
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Order of adjectives

In English there is a "rule" of syntax that few native English speakers have ever been taught. Foreign students, however, need to learn it.
This concerns the order of adjectives attached to a single noun in a sentence.
Native English speakers seem to follow the rule intuitively.
One can classify adjectives into a sequence of 7 types :
1 Personal opinion: beautiful, interesting
2 Size: big, small
3 Age: young, old
4 Shape: round, square
5 Colour: red, yellow
6 Nationality: Spanish, English
7 Material: plastic, glass
8 Purpose: hearing (aid)

So, one would say:
An interesting 1 little 2
old 3
black 5
American 6
woman.

Any other order sounds "un-English"
Do Spanish adjectives follow a similar sequence?
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  #2  
Old June 01, 2009, 02:40 PM
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In Spanish there isn't a rule to order the adjectives, just the use of comma and a conjunction (y, e, etc.). Usually, when you use several adjectives, one of them is in front of the name (usually to highlight something). Furthermore, in Spanish, two (or three) adjectives of your example become into a noun: old + woman = vieja (+ little = viejecita)

Una interesante viejecita, negra y americana.

Anyway, you must be careful of the adjective you put in front of the name. A different sentence would be:

Una vieja negra (or "una negra vieja"), pequeña y americana (here I've omitted "interesting")

Anyway, I'm grateful because of your list
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  #3  
Old June 01, 2009, 02:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brute View Post
Do Spanish adjectives follow a similar sequence?
I'll let a native speaker answer that. But I just wanted to say great post and great information!

Here are some more examples:

little old rusty car
big red barn
hot running water
spicy colorful Mexican food

If you put the adjectives in any other order, it doesn't sound correct. (although there is some leeway with adjectives that fit into more than one category, such as "rusty" or "colorful" in the above examples)
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Old June 01, 2009, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Tomisimo View Post
I'll let a native speaker answer that. But I just wanted to say great post and great information!

Here are some more examples:

little old rusty car
big red barn
hot running water
spicy colorful Mexican food

If you put the adjectives in any other order, it doesn't sound correct. (although there is some leeway with adjectives that fit into more than one category, such as "rusty" or "colorful" in the above examples)
Un viejo cochecito oxidado - un viejo y oxidado cochecito - un pequeño coche, viejo y oxidado, etc.
El gran establo rojo.
Agua corriente caliente (agua corriente siempre es en este orden)
Comida picante mexicana de colores vivos - Picante comida mexicana de vivos colores - Comida mexicana, picante y de vivos colores, etc.
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  #5  
Old June 01, 2009, 03:12 PM
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Originally Posted by irmamar View Post
Un viejo cochecito oxidado - un viejo y oxidado cochecito - un pequeño coche, viejo y oxidado, etc.
El gran establo rojo.
Agua corriente caliente (agua corriente siempre es en este orden)
Comida picante mexicana de colores vivos - Picante comida mexicana de vivos colores - Comida mexicana, picante y de vivos colores, etc.
So I think there is more flexibility in this respect in Spanish. But in some of your examples, you used "viejo y oxidado" in that order. Would you ever say "oxidado y viejo"?
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  #6  
Old June 02, 2009, 06:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tomisimo View Post
So I think there is more flexibility in this respect in Spanish. But in some of your examples, you used "viejo y oxidado" in that order. Would you ever say "oxidado y viejo"?
it's a matter of use. The people say often "viejo y oxidado" as "oxidado y viejo", so at the end sounds more natural.
Other examples:
blanco y resplandeciente
valiente y fiero
noche de rayos y truenos (you can say "noche de truenos y rayos", but ...)


back to the topic
An interesting 1 little 2 old 3 black 5 American 6 woman
Una interesante viejecita americana.
good rule!
I suppose it's the most importatnt the closer. But as irmamar says, usually we chose other words/conjunctions in order to say too much adjectives.
I usually say colors/nacionalities later: un establo rojo, un vestido verde, un cielo azul. Un velero chino, una pirámide egipcia.
but it's the only one I can remember

saludos
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Last edited by sosia; June 02, 2009 at 06:57 AM.
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  #7  
Old June 02, 2009, 10:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sosia View Post
it's a matter of use. The people say often "viejo y oxidado" as "oxidado y viejo", so at the end sounds more natural.
Other examples:
blanco y resplandeciente
valiente y fiero
noche de rayos y truenos (you can say "noche de truenos y rayos", but ...)


back to the topic
An interesting 1 little 2 old 3 black 5 American 6 woman
Una interesante viejecita americana.
good rule!
I suppose it's the most importatnt the closer. But as irmamar says, usually we chose other words/conjunctions in order to say too much adjectives.
I usually say colors/nacionalities later: un establo rojo, un vestido verde, un cielo azul. Un velero chino, una pirámide egipcia.
but it's the only one I can remember

saludos
I didn't notice I repeated "viejo y oxidado", I suppose it's because phonetically it sounds better. But as Sosia said, you can say "oxidado y viejo" as well.

By the other side, maybe we don't put together so much adjectives as in English, because we can make a noun with several adjectives, like in this case old + woman + little = viejecita.
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  #8  
Old June 01, 2009, 03:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tomisimo View Post
(although there is some leeway with adjectives that fit into more than one category, such as "rusty" or "colorful" in the above examples)
I had started to type a response earlier, but didn't post it because I was lacking in some information.

But anyway, I agree. It seems that adjectives that describe similar features can be interchanged, but that there's still an underlying order to them. I never learned an order, so I don't know if it's a set grammatical rule, or just an artifact of how we're use to saying it. I do know an English grammar expert though, so I'll ask her.

It seems to me that the order is

[Opinion adjectives*] -> [Physical Features: Age, size, ect.] -> [Color] -> [Personal distinctions: Race, Nationality, religion, etc.].

But that leaves large gaps that maybe someone, or ourselves as a collective effort, can fill in.

Oh, and I astrix'ed the "opinion adjectives" because playing with them, you seem to be able to move them anywhere you want and it works, but some places sound better than others.
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Old June 01, 2009, 03:59 PM
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I think what the innate grammatical rule boils down to is that the subjective, least defining adjectives are farthest away from the noun, while the most defining, most intrinsic, least subjective adjectives are closest to the noun.

So taking as an example, "the nice, smiling American lady", we can see that above all, the lady is an American lady-- being American is a more important piece of information than the fact that she is nice or smiling. Then we have "smiling", which is less important, it is something that can change easier, but it is less subjective than "nice".
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  #10  
Old June 01, 2009, 07:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Tomisimo View Post
I think what the innate grammatical rule boils down to is that the subjective, least defining adjectives are farthest away from the noun, while the most defining, most intrinsic, least subjective adjectives are closest to the noun.
That's pretty much what my "grammar expert" said. Most important (or personal) adjectives closest. Also, there's certain adjective pairings that always go in order together just because they're known. Best example is from above "Little old lady". "Little old" is just used so much, the pairing is pretty much automatic.
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