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I understand that typically adjectives follow the noun, but what are the rules in the case of having multiple adjectives. For example, what if I were writing any of the following phrases in French: "a curtain of thick green spanish moss..." "the girl had long red shiny hair..." "large sad grey eyes..."

Does one place all the adjectives after the noun, for example: "mousse espagnole épaisse verte..." "fille avec cheveux longs rousse brillante" "yeux gris triste gros"

Or is there a rule about placement with multiple adjectives, do some come before the noun and some after?

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  • I am not yet fluent enough to read that, and it seems to be almost entirely in French! Some English responses would be very helpful. Thank you. – Luisa Nov 4 '16 at 20:06
  • I thought the english adjective order could apply (and it's true to a certain extent !) but I keep finding counter examples. For example, you say "un vieil homme" (an old man) but "un homme âgé" (an aged/eldey man). The fact that the noun can go before or after certain adjectives makes the whole think complicated. There are rules, like quantity always comes first, color is always after the noun, etc. – Teleporting Goat Nov 7 '16 at 9:35
  • But you should know that in French, you need to use "et" between your adjectives when you have too many of them. – Teleporting Goat Nov 7 '16 at 9:38
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I recognize that the existing answer, apart of the fact that it is written in French, might also be a little too abstract for immediate needs.

First of all, a general thumb rule is that epithet adjectives go after the noun, unless this adjective is frequently used ("small words") or an idiom, in which case a rule of Old French applies (the adjective goes before the noun).

In general:

Un chapeau élégant

But:

Un beau chapeau

(small and frequent word).

In general:

Un homme grand

(the man is tall), but:

Un grand homme

is an idiom (meaning famous, briliant, etc.)

There is nothing mysterious there, but we will see that it does have an impact on the order.

Here is the rule of thumb: the closest the adjective is related to the noun (modifies it), the closest it should be in the sentence. That sounds quite sensible: considering that in French you first hear a noun and then its modifiers, the message will come across better if the first ones go first.

While linguists will go into disquisitions about whether there are rules of what is generally considered more modifying (or whether there could be rules at all), I guess you can go a long way with your common sense and some observation.

Let's see a few examples:

If you use the colors "vert" and "foncé", obviously "vert" is more "modifying" (for your purposes) than "foncé", hence:

Un chapeau vert foncé

When you have more than two, it becomes unwieldy anyway, so you might have to articulate with commas and coordination conjunctions:

Un chapeau chaud et/mais vert foncé,

... the order now depending on what you want to say (it's obvious, however that the color "foncé" should stick with "vert").

But since color can be judged less important than warmth (at least in cold weather), a Cartesian discussion partner might start wondering why "chaud" is coming as an afterthought. You should prepare to justify yourself:

Un chapeau vert foncé, également chaud

Un chapeau vert foncé, d'ailleurs chaud

And what if we use beau/élégant on top of it? It depends again on what you want to stress:

Un chapeau élégant, chaud et vert foncé,

It starts looking like a good, proper and idiomatic advertisement (in which case aesthetics might be more important than warmth). On the other hand, since "beau" conventionally goes before the noun:

Un beau chapeau, chaud et vert foncé,

But if you want to sound quaint, you could also go "traditional order" with the word "elegant" and throw it in front of the noun:

Un élégant chapeau, chaud et vert foncé,

But unless you are auctioning the hat at Christie's, and especially when you sell on Ebay, you might want to stay with "chapeau élégant".

These are rules of thumb, but it could take you a long way.

  • Just a little correction on what you said (which seems correct apart from that): in "un chapeau vert foncé", the point is not that "foncé" is more or less modifying than vert. It is that "foncé" is a modifyer of "vert", not of "chapeau". If "foncé" was a modifyer of "chapeau", it would be "un chapeau vert et foncé" (but it would seem very awkward). Is your hat dark green or dark and green? – Steph Nov 6 '16 at 21:18
  • Thanks. I mentioned that "it's obvious, however that the color "foncé" should stick with "vert"". Perhaps I should phrase it in a more explicit way? – fralau Nov 7 '16 at 6:31
  • I'll be picky and opt for "Un élégant chapeau vert foncé et chaud" but I must reckon, there is nothing wrong on the count of syntax with "Un élégant chapeau, chaud et vert foncé". – LPH Aug 21 '18 at 14:49
  • By all means, freedom is just as important as rules... unless rules exist only to provide the level ground on which we can exert freedom? – fralau Aug 22 '18 at 15:39

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