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What is the rule for adjective order?

  • I saw an abandoned cute little kitten.
  • I saw a cute abandoned little kitten.

Which sentence is correct? What is the rule for using consecutive adjectives in English?

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marked as duplicate by Matt Эллен, tchrist, KitFox, jwpat7, Robusto Jul 31 '12 at 16:07

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Related: What is the rule for adjective order? –  coleopterist Jul 31 '12 at 7:09

3 Answers 3

There is a degree of flexibility in the ordering of adjectives, but a frequent order is this, given in ‘An A-Z of English Grammar and Usage’ by Leech and others:

  1. describing or expressing feeling
  2. size
  3. age
  4. colour
  5. defining

Cute expresses objective feeling towards the kitten, so would come first according to that schema. Little clearly expresses size and would come second. Abandoned classifies the kitten, and so can be considered defining and would be last. This analysis produces the sentence that Flexo has provided.

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+1 Excellent and helpful answer, I didn't know this myself. –  asymptotically Jul 31 '12 at 7:28
    
Amazing how Leech was able to put into rules what amateurs like me and Flexo sense only by intuition. Thanks for sharing the reference. –  J.R. Jul 31 '12 at 9:47
    
@J.R. I wouldn't say it was a rule. It's rather an observation of what tends to be the case. –  Barrie England Jul 31 '12 at 9:50
    
@Barrie: I agree; I think I meant to write something like "rule of thumb." Thanks for clarifying. –  J.R. Jul 31 '12 at 9:53
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Fascinating. Rules like this, which native English speakers are never taught but absorb from listening, were used in my linguistics class to show that all language is governed my rules, whether or not anyone formally declares and sanctions them. This applies as much to the dialects of illiterate villagers as it does to speech of the educated. –  Nathan Long Jul 31 '12 at 12:36

I wouldn't use either of those options. I would say:

I saw a cute little abandoned kitten.

I'm not sure why, that's just my intuition.

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Mine as well. Barrie's answer helps explain why: "cute" is a subjective adjective and by saying it you express that "awwww" feeling. Size comes next, and then the kitten is being defined by the fact that it's abandoned. –  KeithS Jul 31 '12 at 15:05

As other answers have testified, the ordering of adverbs and adjectives in English is much down to personal taste. My favoured order would be "abandoned cute little kitten" because it lets you tie "cute little kitten" together (which is probably what you want), and then tagging that whole description with "abandoned".

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I'd go with this, as mixing the grouping in any other way causes my brain to wonder if cute or little were somehow meant to, improperly, describe abandoned. However, if strict grammar is required then @BarrieEngland has the rules. –  user14070 Jul 31 '12 at 15:15

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