I read here that there is a general rule to write an adjective order. But I didn't find any explanation if the rule has a specific order for colours, especially for primary colours.

This may sound stupid but I'm just wondering. I mean is it preferable to say:

red and white flowers


white and red flowers

Or is there really no grammatical rule to obey?

  • No rule that I know of. Often it comes down to 1) which color you want to highlight more (the first is probably more prominent) or 2) which order flows best. (For example, "red and white" flows off the tongue better than "white and red", which is slightly harder to say. – ralph.m Dec 7 '15 at 9:25
  • It could be that red is mentioned first because it is perceived to be more dominant of the two colours. So what about: "a black and red T-shirt" or "a red and black T-shirt"? Are they identical in meaning? Is black more dominant than red? Are native speakers more likely to say "A green and red hat" or "A red and green hat"? – Mari-Lou A Dec 7 '15 at 10:06
  • There's a definite order. – Hot Licks Feb 6 '16 at 20:03

I mean is it preferable to say:

red and white flowers Or:

white and red flowers

Or is there really no grammatical rule to obey?

No, there is no rule, you can use any order you like:

"There were white, red, purple and pale-blue flowers on the table" is correct with any permutations of the colours

  • Also there may be exceptions when we are speaking about the colours of flags. The American flag is often described as being "red white and blue" as are the UK's, and France's flags. How come? Please see this link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_White_and_Blue – Mari-Lou A Dec 7 '15 at 13:31

In a corpus of about 1.5 million words of poetry I found 214 instances of conjoined colours, where the colours were the 12 commonest colour terms in the U.S. frequency dictionary. Red and white occurred 12 times, and white and red 10 times. A 12 by 12 chart of all the possibilities exhibited a roughly symmetrical pattern of results with one exception: green and gold/en occurred 26 times (the highest total of all possible combinations), but only 4 instances of gold/en and green.

  • Summarize what that means in terms of the original question and you have a good answer. – Hot Licks Feb 6 '16 at 2:51

From Mari-Lou and Ralph's point on dominance/prominence, I'd probably be more inclined to say black and white cat, e.g. for this fella‌​:

Black and white cat

But white & black cat here:

White and black cat

If the mixture is equal, I'd probably use either order; though with something like black & white, I'd naturally go towards more common phrasing (e.g. we have black & white films/photographs, so that's feel more natural through use rather than a specific rule).

  • This is a good guide, but you still have to answer the OP's question. I could at any time delete my comments, recently it's become a habit of mine, and then your answer would make less sense. Tie the OP's question with your answer together. – Mari-Lou A Dec 7 '15 at 12:01
  • Please delete your now obsolete comment from Gwen's post. Thanks. I think she's a bit peeved with me, judging from a recent comment she posted to me. – Mari-Lou A Dec 7 '15 at 12:57
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    @Mari-LouA Deleted & I'll tidy up this answer when I get a chance — cheers for the comment! – anotherdave Dec 7 '15 at 13:06
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    Actually, I would describe the second cat as "black and white" also, because "black and white" is a strong collocation in English that should not be reversed, even when the white is much more prominent. – Toby 1 Kenobi Dec 7 '15 at 13:13

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