The café smelt of fried onions and tomato ketchup; the tables were green Formica with chipped painted, steel legs.

I am trying to use chipped and painted to form an adjectival phrase in this sentence.

Is chipped-paint, steel legs an option in this sentence? (with or without a hyphen?)

Or would I have to use chipped and painted.

  • 1
    It's fine if there's a comma between chipped and painted; and in speech there would be. So there should be here. – John Lawler Apr 1 '14 at 14:16
  • I recommend this wording: "The café smelt of fried onions and tomato ketchup; the paint on the steel legs of the green Formica tables was chipped." It's still quite a zoom from the smell that greets a person walking through the door of the café to a close examination of the condition of the paint on the (presumably spindly) table legs; but if you have the necessary mental telescope, so be it. My revised wording establishes, in order, that the legs are (1) painted, (2) steel, and (3) missing chips of paint, which is probably the order in which a viewer would notice these details. – Sven Yargs Apr 1 '14 at 18:50

I don't believe you can do it using only adjectives. You need to use a prepositional phrase. There are lots of ways of doing it with prepositional phrases. The best I've come up with is:

the tables were green Formica with chipped paint on their steel legs.

But you could also say something like:

the tables were green Formica whose steel legs were covered with chipped paint.

  • I like your first suggestion. – RoDaSm Apr 1 '14 at 13:01

It's poetic, but you could say "paint-chipped steel legs". To me, this is appropriately evocative, and can mean that paint has chipped off, or that the steel legs have paint chips on them.

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