It’s nice to learn new things, but sometimes I ask myself, “Where the heck have I been?” For example, while trying to figure out why Facebook kept ignoring my posts the other day, I overheard my colleagues discussing the use of adjectives. (See, we are a real publishing company and we often discuss grammar. But we’re also not above discussing whether Prosecco goes better with chocolate or pizza.) As it went, using more than one adjective to describe a noun requires putting the adjectives in a specific order. So if I were to write about my sister’s dog, I would, without thinking, describe “Precious” as a cute, fluffy Pomeranian. I would not say she is a fluffy, cute Pomeranian—for the simple reason that it doesn’t sound right. After all, in their grammar bible, The Elements of Style, Strunk and White often justify grammar rules by declaring certain usage just sounding right.
Back to my office pals. After reading an article and doing a little research, I got the lowdown on correct adjectival order. General adjectives such as good, bad, ugly come first, followed by specific adjectives like polite, immoral, and foul, which in turn are followed by adjectives that describe size or number, shape, age, color, nationality, or finally material.
Here are some examples of adjectives out of order:
“A huge, orange and black bird landed on my feeder” sounds better than, an “orange and black, huge bird landed on my feeder.” In this example, size (huge) comes before color (orange and black).
“The bright, magical moon” has a romantic ring to it. “The magical, bright moon” doesn’t sound too bad, but indicates that there could also be a magical, dull moon.
“Freshly fallen, white snow makes me think of Christmas.” “Fallen freshly, white snow, etc.” makes we wonder if the writer is implying that old snow can fall. But the timing of the fallen snow is given before the color.
Now here are a couple of correct examples from fairy tales. They are so familiar we don’t think about whether the authors correctly considered the rule, although they have:
“Three [number] little [size] pigs” clearly brings to mind three small, maybe identical oinkers, just like “little red riding-hood” gives us an image of a young girl wearing a red hoodie. “Little three pigs”, and “red little riding-hood” sound so awkward that no explanation is needed.
The rule was ignored for “big, bad wolf,” but don’t try to change it because it is firmly ingrained in our literature.
Since we keep that aforementioned bottle of Prosecco in the refrigerator for toasting the issuance of new books, here’s one more example: “Cold, sparkling Prosecco is a staple in our office.” “Cold” is general opinion and “sparkling” is specific. But in either order, we’d drink it anyway.
By the way, give us your submissions because we’re eager to toast a new titles! Log-on to our website for guidelines.