Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I was reading an English children story to my niece the other day when I came across these phrases said by three different characters:

  • I want a big, beautiful hat!
  • I want a big, exciting computer!
  • I want a big, expensive TV!

Why is the first adjective big and not the adjective expressing an evaluation or opinion? I thought adjectives expressing the speaker's opinion came first and foremost. I am also curious about the comma separating the two adjectives, how does it affect meaning?

And finally, if I were to insert red in the first example, where would it fit best and should I keep the commas?

I want a big, beautiful red hat!
I want a beautiful, big red hat!
I want a big, red, beautiful hat!

share|improve this question
3  
Possible duplicate: What is the rule for adjective order? –  IQAndreas Jan 8 at 9:35
    
And as for your second question: When should an adjective be followed by a comma? –  IQAndreas Jan 8 at 9:44
1  
I disagree with the idea that the most important quality comes first. Big used first sounds more like a generic "great", and therefore not really about size as much as it is about awesomeness, although it couldn't be about something small. When it's used next to the noun, it's more about the size. "Big beautiful hat" is different from "beautiful big hat"; the latter must be a big hat, whereas the former can big or medium, just not small. Likewise, "big expensive TV" is different from "expensive big TV"; the latter sounds to me like it would take up most of the wall. –  Julia Jan 8 at 15:41
2  
@Mari-Lou: Well, hopefully you realise that the "rule" is at best a "guide". If you check all permutations of beautiful big red in Google Books you'll see that the overwhelming majority are in that order, conforming to the general guidelines. But suppose you went in the hat shop (wearing those shiny red shoes which I know you have! :), and said "I'm looking for a beautiful big hat!" ... –  FumbleFingers Jan 8 at 22:49
1  
... Further suppose the milliner didn't even think about those shoes, so he brought out various "beautiful big hats" for you to consider, but none in the all-important red. You could just point out that you wanted a "beautiful big red hat", and let vocal stress carry the emphasis. But you might well also promote "red" to the front of the list. It wouldn't sound weird in such a context. –  FumbleFingers Jan 8 at 22:50

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Commas between adjectives are typically used for adjectives from the same category:

That was a very expensive, boring, useless conference. (Opinion adjectives)

?That was a very expensive boring useless conference.

Adjectives from different categories are not usually separated by commas:

She's just bought a beautiful new red car.

However, writers may separate words from different categories with commas, and reorder them, in order to give each word individually a focus that it would not have in a non-comma-separated list. This is what is happening with sentences such as:

I want a big, red, beautiful hat!

share|improve this answer

Generally, adjectives of quantity and size precede others. I can't say why, except that was how it was ordered in Latin.

I want many big beautiful soft red silk hats. No commas.

Color and material are subset adjectives, and for that reason usually goes right before the set (hats) it modifies.

You don't need commas unless the adjectives don't modify each other.

I want many big beautiful soft red, green, purple and yellow silk hats.

How do you know if an adjective modifies another? Try using and between them. Red and green and purple and yellow doesn't change the meaning of the words, so they are "equal" (and get commas), but if you want a purplish green striped yellow spotted red hat, meaning changes with and, so you must order them the way you want them. A purplish-green striped, yellow-spotted (comma optional) red hat. (Does that make sense?)

Oh, in the time I typed this, others have given better answers, so I'll stop here.

Please know that the order of adjectives is still being debated.

This is one ordering I've found.

evaluation > size > shape > condition > human propensity > age > color > origin > material + attributive noun.

I myself would change this to number > size > evaluation > shape...

(French takes almost this order, I think, with the subsets following the noun. Je veux beaucoup de beaux grands chapeaux de soie rouge. I like the word "de". Less complicated.)

Oh, and, as in Latin, the order can be changed to emphasize or differentiate.

share|improve this answer
    
Very interesting ideas here. One more important one is that the order has to 'sound right'. That only comes from years of listening. –  WS2 Jan 8 at 12:22

When I have a list of requirements or desiderata, I put the most important one first, as it is the one people are most likely to remember. So a big, beautiful, red hat must first and foremost be big, whereas its being beautiful is highly desirable, and it should be red if possible.

share|improve this answer
    
Why would you add a comma after beautiful? I think the phrase: "A beautiful red hat" sounds acceptable without a comma. Could one write: "A beautiful, red hat"? Moreover, it seems to me that red hat is an essential requisite. –  Mari-Lou A Jan 8 at 11:03
    
I disagree with your listing by requirement. It is quite awkward to say, e.g. I want moire, red, four, silk, big hats, simply because you desire them in that order. Furthermore, everyone reading that list will (besides being confused) assume that it is first and foremost four red moire silk (or silk moire) hats that you want. –  medica Jan 8 at 14:57

Well, the correct answer should be:

I want a beautiful big red hat.

There is rule about the order of adjectives:

1.General opinion
2.Specific opinion
3.Size
4.Shape
5.Age
6.Colour
7.Nationality
8.Material

I don't think commas are needed. Here is one nice chart:

enter image description here

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.