I have seen that coordinate adjectives work independently from each other, belong to the same category, and can be separated with commas or the conjunction "and" and still sound normal even if their order is changed.

A beautiful, silent car.
A silent, beautiful car.

(Both beautiful and silent are matters of opinion)

On the other hand, cumulative adjectives have to build upon each other and belong to different categories, such as size (big, small, large) and material (metallic, gold, plastic).

A large metal tube.

However, I can think of some sentences where you have two adjectives that belong to different categories and still sound fine like coordinate adjectives. For example:

She had a frail, small body.
She had a small, frail body.

(Frail is a matter of opinion, while small is a matter of size)

What gives? Is it possible that some adjectives can belong to different categories and still be used in a sentence like coordinate adjectives?

  • 3
    A frail, small body doesn't sound natural to me as a native speaker. Nov 24 at 13:58
  • Well, that makes it even worse @KateBunting, because if you were to use them as cumulative adjectives you would have to place frail first (opinion comes before size), and the sentence would be "She had a frail small body". Even if you treat them as cumulative adjectives in the other way ("She had a small frail body") it still sounds worse than if you use them as coordinate adjectives, don't you think? Nov 24 at 14:07
  • 2
    Native speakers choose the order of adjectives instinctively, not according to some theoretical rule. To me, a small, frail body sounds perfectly fine. (I had to look up the 'correct' order for adjectives. This site recommends Two tasty large pizzas, but I would say Two large, tasty pizzas.) Nov 24 at 14:13
  • Thanks for you answer, and I understand that is how people naturally speak. However, if you look up the rule for coordinate adjectives it says that if you can separate them using a comma like you did there ("She had a small, frail body"), you should be able to revert their order ("She had a frail, small body"). Well, perhaps that is one of those situations where the rules don't help much at all. Nov 24 at 14:16
  • 1
    Over on WordWizard, Phil White once contributed an article showing how inaccurate the 'Royal Order of Adjectives' rule is, proving that it is at best a general guideline. He gave an alternative breakdown according to type of adjective, but it either became very fiddly or remained riddled with exceptions. Just regard the Royal Order as a helpful guide, with idiosyncratic exceptions. But using no more than say 3 adjectives together is probably a more easily observed rule. Nov 24 at 16:20

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