If I say adjectives in a row, where the first could apply to the second, such as "cute blonde girl" - does it imply that I think blonde is cute? If it doesn't, why not and how would this be phrased to do so?

  • 1
    Are you trying to say you think blondes in general are cute? If so you’d need to say just that. “Blonde” is a modifier and can’t have “cuteness” of its own. “Cute blonde girl” implies a blonde girl who is cute. If you were to add a comma between them (“cute, blonde girl”), the adjectives become cooridnate, and it would imply a girl who happens to be both cute and blonde.
    – GrammarCop
    Commented May 31 at 16:48
  • So I would need to specify these things separately and it is improper to not have a comma? I'm in an argument with my family member that keeps writing something along the lines of "that cute fat cat" - to me, it implies that they find the cat's fatness cute but I'm not sure there's any basis in English for this.
    – G_A_R_T
    Commented May 31 at 17:54
  • I would say it’s more correct not to have the comma because “blonde” as a modifier is intrinsically tied to the girl, whereas “cute” is then something you’re tacking on. All you can draw from “that cute fat cat” is that there is a fat cat and they find it cute. It could be because of the cat’s fatness, or it could just be that they find that one fat cat cute (as opposed to another fat cat, which they might find ugly). It’s up to your interpretation.
    – GrammarCop
    Commented May 31 at 18:16
  • You could say "cutely blonde girl" meaning she's blonde in a cute way (adverb modifies adjective), but it doesn't sound very natural/idiomatic. On the other hand, it's not totally unreasonable to say that if two things are mentioned together the speaker/writer connects them in some way.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 31 at 18:44

1 Answer 1


There's a generalized semantic precedence to stacked adjectives where ones of higher precedence are generally ordered first and most likely to describe the noun rather than the succeeding adjective. Subjective assessments like "cute" have the highest precedence in this regard.

enter image description here

So "cute blonde girl" strongly implies that "cute" describes "girl" and not "blonde". Same with "amazing blue sky"; this pulls strongly towards "amazing" describing "sky" and not "blue".

However, adjectives used in more objective contexts tend to pull more strongly towards describing their succeeding adjectives. So in the case of "dark blonde girl", "dark" pulls towards describing "blonde" and not "girl". That is to say, this implies a girl who has dark blonde hair, not a dark girl who has blonde hair. Context affects precedence as well; "blonde" is describing a hair color in this context and "dark" is commonly used to describe color, so "dark" pulls more strongly towards "blonde" as they're more contextually related in this case.

There's also some degree of ambiguity in all of this, but it should be safe to assume in the case of "cute blonde girl" that "cute" is describing "girl". If you want to make it absolutely clear, you can use "and" or a comma in between: "a cute and blonde girl" or "a cute, blonde girl".

If you want to describe her cuteness as bundled into her blondeness, a hyphen serves to imply a stronger relationship between the adjacent adjectives. So "cute-blonde girl" would imply that there's a stronger relationship between "cute" and "blonde", that her blonde hair is cute or that the girl's cuteness has something more specifically to do with being blonde.

  • 1
    'Compound adjectives' are single adjectives arising from two elements combined into a single lexeme (normally a hyphenated word) such as heart-warming, sun-dried, world-famous, full-length, two-door. 'Cute blonde girls' certainly doesn't contain a compound adjective. // 'Deep blue sea' is indeterminate between 'sea appearing deep blue' and 'deep and blue sea'. In the first interpretation, the first adjective modifies the second rather than the noun. In the second, the adjectives are coordinate (and usually separated by a comma). Commented May 31 at 19:31
  • @EdwinAshworth I see! My understanding of compound adjectives might be incorrect. I was under the impression that any adjacent pair of adjectives -- used as such (although often rather ambiguous as many adjs. also function as nouns) -- form compounds implicitly even with the omission of the hyphen. They can implicitly form coordinate adjectives as well even with the omission of the comma?
    – Ned Stark
    Commented May 31 at 19:53
  • 1
    With nouns certainly , there are grey areas between open compounds and strong collocations. (And CGEL don't even recognise open compound lexemes). // I've always seen 'the deep blue sea' as using coordinate adjectives, 'the sea deep and blue', which the 'rule' insists should have a comma. It's a rule of thumb. Commented May 31 at 22:23
  • 1
    Strings of more than two adjectives are usually all modifying the noun; it's too messy using other devices. With a pair of adjectives, the key issue is whether the earlier adjective modifies the noun or the second adjective. As you say, logic often informs (even mandates) the actual situation. 'The beautiful[,] blue sea' (I'd not use a comma) gravitates, as you say, heavily towards a coordinate usage. For the alternative, 'the sea was a beautiful blue' is available. And some pairings (bright blue) are strong collocations (grading to compounds like blue-green, off-white), and can ... Commented May 31 at 23:13
  • 1
    be assumed to be cohesive (ie not separately modifying the noun, unlike say 'a nice little old house'). Commented May 31 at 23:14

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.