I want to know which one is correct ? "New" is age and "Difficult" is observation so it should be difficult new question but I think it's not ! why?

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    "New difficult question" implies that there have been difficult questions in the past. "Difficult new question" leaves that info ambiguous. Grammatically speaking, they are both correct.
    – Othya
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 13:04
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    Ngrams says "difficult new" is more common, as one would expect. Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 13:34
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    @Peter: But would you rather be asked to solve a new difficult problem or a difficult new problem? To my ear, the former implies you've already solved at least one difficult problem (which is perhaps more appropriate to you personally! :) so in a way it could be seen as potentially less challenging. The latter might apply even if no previous problems have ever actually been that difficult to solve, so if this new one actually merits that specific designation, it could even be so difficult as to be completely unsolvable! Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 13:58
  • ... Yes. The unmarked order (which follows the '... then observation ... ... then age ...' rule-of-thumb) is 'difficult new question', whereas 'new difficult question' has 'new' modifying the string. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 18:52
  • Phil White and others at Wordwizard have looked at the order(s) of adjectives in English in greater depth than usual, and have claimed that infallible general rules can't be found, here and here. Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 22:40

2 Answers 2


The adjectives in a sentence follows this order:

enter image description here Keeping this order in mind, we would say a difficult(opinion), new(age) question.

  • +1. What if the metal bowl was large, silver, hand-hammered, and made in Sweden?
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 13:29
  • @Tim: I'd say a large hand-hammered bowl, a hand-hammered silver bowl, a hand-hammered Swedish bowl, and a Swedish silver bowl, so I guess the right order is a large hand-hammered Swedish silver bowl. (Although let me note that putting all four of these adjectives in front of bowl sounds wrong whichever order I do it in.) Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 13:41
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    Once a condition like hand-hammered is added to the mix, the origin-modifier gets moved into a modifying clause. "A promising young injured Brazilian footballer" => "A promising young injured footballer from Brazil". "A large hand-hammered silver bowl made in Sweden".
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 13:52
  • Boy, it ain't half a lot easier when you are a native speaker. Imagine having to learn all these things off a chart!
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 14:16
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    But this ignores emphasis and context. If you are talking about handsome men and another enters the mix, he is a new handsome man.
    – bib
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 14:28

There are two types of adjective groups: coordinate and cumulative. Coordinate adjectives all equally describe the noun, are always separated by commas, can be rearranged without changing the meaning of the sentence, and an "and" can be substituted for the separating comma. Cumulative adjectives are not separated by commas, you cannot put an "and" between them, and changing their order is either impossible or modifies the meaning.

Sometimes, it is clear what type the adjectives are. For example, "large, heavy book" is most certainly a case of coordinate adjectives, while "expensive custom-made computer" or "large red book" are clearly groups of cumulative adjectives. Sometimes, as in the case with your example, it is not definitive; your example can be either. Because you are not including a comma or "and" in your examples, I assume the adjectives in question are cumulative.

In case of cumulative adjectives, the one before the noun modifies it and pairs with it as a lexical unit while the one before the adjective / noun unit modifies the whole unit. In this case, the meaning is as follows.

new difficult question

This is unusual but possible. This would be used to discuss a new one in a series of difficult questions, such as would be put forward for a discussion at a Difficult Question Committee. The "difficult" here applies to the one being asked as well as all previous questions.

difficult new question

This would be used when a new question has arisen which, in addition, is difficult. "Difficult" applies to the "new question" only and does not necessarily--most probably doesn't--apply to all of the previous questions. We could say, "This is a difficult new question which there should be a separate meeting to discuss."

difficult, new question or new, difficult question or new and difficult question are all examples of coordinate adjectives, are all acceptable, and all mean the same thing.

  • This sounds eminently logical and accords with my understanding of how to place adjectives. However my own method, which is purely instinctive, takes no account of any schematic of this kind. I find it remarkable that we native speakers, every time we order adjectives, go though an unconscious process which unfailingly delivers the same result as one would get from applying such a scheme.
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 15:43

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