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It doesn't seem like it changes the meaning in an obvious way. Does the order of adjectives matter or is it just in my head and just due to happening to phrase it one way rather than another more often?

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    The general answer is that of nesting modification. You're modifying "main site" rather than "external site", in which case you are implying there are 2 main sites, one of which is external, which makes no sense. In "External Site" you are saying there are multiple external sites, 1 one them which is treated as the main one of that group.
    – Durakken
    Mar 14, 2017 at 20:08
  • Sure the order matters. Mar 14, 2017 at 20:12
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    @Durakken Why does it not make sense to say that there are several main sites, one of which is external (the other[s] presumably internal)? The existence of two main sites would presumably be in addition to various secondary sites. I disagree with the premise of this question: both sound perfectly normal and not awkward at all to me, though they mean different things. Mar 14, 2017 at 20:30
  • @Durakken There are two website that can be described as being the "main" site, one is our group's intranet website with all sorts of tools on it, the other is the group's external internet website. We have loads of secondary sites so each one is "the main" site in the context of "internal" or "external"
    – Bratchley
    Mar 14, 2017 at 20:34
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    @Durakken No. You're quite simply wrong. There can be more than one main site. Look up main in a dictionary—nothing about it necessarily limiting the noun it modifies to just one. ODO, for example, has several example sentences of main [plural], like “the three main candidates”, “one of the main reasons”, etc. That is perfectly normal English. Main does not mean what you say it means. Mar 14, 2017 at 22:09

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Main is a comparative adjective used to compare between objects.

If you have several external sites, one of which is more important than the others, then that site is your main external site. You may, or may not, also have some internal sites, some of which may be more important than your main external one.

If, out of all your sites, internal or external, you have a most important one, then that is your main site. If this site is external then you can describe it as an external main site, or more commonly you would say that you have an external main site. Your most important site is external.

It is like having a French best friend, this means that your best friend is French. If you say you have a best French friend then he or she is the best out of all your French friends, but you may have better friends in England or Germany, for example.

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  • +1, though I don’t think main can meaningfully be called a comparative adjective. It is not morphologically comparative (that would have been something like *mainer, which doesn’t exist), and it’s no more comparative in function than external (or tall, blue, etc.). All those also imply some level of comparison: the tall one implies that there are others that are less tall, the external one implies there are internal ones, etc. Mar 14, 2017 at 20:33
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    Some adjectives give additional information about the referent in isolation (a blue ball; a true statement). Some give information about how the referent compares (the biggest ball; the main reason) to other members of the referent's set. Some refer to a hidden referent (a proud day [possibly for a child's parents]), and some to the referent's set (a mere youth). Mar 14, 2017 at 20:54

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