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Is there a limitation on the kind of adjectives that can be used with particular nouns? For example, can I use the adjective lovely to describe food in the following sentences?

The food was lovely, was it not?

The food cannot be lovely, can it?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

If an adjective describes a property that the noun cannot have, of course the resulting phrase would be nonsensical in any language— an orange melody, a perpendicular taste, or solid liquid.

In this case though, lovely means pleasant or beautiful, and food can certainly be either or both, so

The food was lovely, was it not ?

The food cannot be lovely, can it ?

would be quite proper.

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English admits any kind of adjective with any noun, but one needs a firm grasp on idiom and usage before he can use it convincingly. We used to speak of "blue words," "purple prose," "white noise," "Red army." –  Pete Wilson Feb 5 '12 at 11:34

To a certain extent, there are limits. Collocation is the propensity for words to go together. Often they do so for no discernible reason except that that's what we say. You often heavy rain but not strong rain and usually it's a strong wind not a heavy wind.

The food was lovely isn't common, but it's certainly possible. More common combinations, at least in the corpus of contemporary American English are: good, wonderful, pretty, fine, exquisite and superb.

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