Which one of the following two sentences is more correct/appropriate than the other? Why?

  1. That's a both interesting and challenging problem.
  2. That's both an interesting and challenging problem.
  • 1
    I think it will be 2: That's both an interesting and challenging problem.
    – SHANTA
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 15:22

6 Answers 6


Of your original two sentences, neither is very smooth-sounding, but only the second one is grammatical; you can't really use "both" and a pair of adjectives to make a countable noun phrase like that.

The cleanest way to rephrase this using the rhetorical effect of "both" is to put the adjectives at the end, in a restrictive clause, and link them with "that is":

That's a problem that is both interesting and challenging.

This simplifies the structure so that the reader or hearer does not have to keep track of so many things at once, and subtly builds up emphasis as it goes so the rhetorical impact of the adjectives is increased.

If you don't really need the emphasis, you can simplify this further:

That's an interesting and challenging problem.


The best way to write this sentence is to make it simple and direct by eliminating the somewhat awkward-sounding phrase using "both" (in any version): "That's an interesting and challenging problem."

This says the exact same thing and is much more to the point. I spent many years on a newspaper copy desk and would strongly recommend grammar and composition guidelines found in Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style." One of their Elementary Principles of Composition is "Omit needless words."

  • 3
    Hey there, welcome to the ELL Stackexchange! Make sure any answer you post does actually answer the question asked (OP wants to know which example he gave is better, and one definitely is). Adding extra information such as how to convey the same meaning with fewer words is totally fine as well! But remember, we avoid opinion-based answers here, and not everything is written English -- sometimes "unneeded" words can add emphasis or otherwise change the implied meaning of a sentence. There's nothing ungrammatical or unnatural sounding about OP's second option, even with the word "both" in it.
    – Emmabee
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 14:07

1.That's a both interesting and challenging problem. 2. That's both an interesting and challenging problem. Here, both is used as a correlative conjunction , so no determinant should precede it. The first sentence is ungrammatical. The second one is ok. It is used for clarification. There are other correlative conjunctions that shouldn't be preceded by a determinant. Eg: either... or

  1. Is ungrammatical.

  2. Still doesn't sound quite right though.

I would recommend putting an indefinite article before both noun phrases:

  1. That's both an interesting and a challenging problem.


  • ... someone who is both an academic and an active practitioner in their subject area. a
  • It is both a natural and a man-made product ... b
  • ... there is both a medical and an economic aspect ... c
  • Socioeconomics is both a positive and a normative science ... d
  • ... both a left and a right congruence ... e
  • 1
    a) A problem can be interesting and challenging. b) It is an interesting and challenging problem // Both forms are grammatical. c) A Person can be an academic and an active practitioner. d) "He is an academic and active practitioner” d) also works because the person is both these things, repeating the indefinite article is unnecessary. e) “He is an academic and an actor” the indefinite articles are correct because in e) we are talking about two distinctive and unrelated professions. (Not my downvote)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 4, 2023 at 17:25
  • Oops I see my example 'a' is not an example. It's using 'academic' as a noun rather than as an adjective. Yes they would all remain grammatical while leaving out various words but I'm only addressing the OP's question on the 'correct way of using "both"' and anyway they don't quite express the same thing when you leave out the "both", which is usually used for emphasis. Commented Aug 5, 2023 at 3:34

Use the second form:

That's both an interesting and challenging problem.

This example is both natural and clear language.

Avoid the first.

If you do not need to emphasize that both adjectives apply, you can simply omit "both":

The above example is natural and clear.

  • Please explain your downvotes so the answer can be improved.
    – BadZen
    Commented Aug 4, 2023 at 22:31

The role of both...and in NP (Noun Phrase) structure is of a Correlative coordinator.

Example -

... both interesting and challenging problem.

Generally it's ungrammatical to place a pre-head dependent like the, a or other determiner, adjectives etc before both when it's used as a correlative coordinator.

That's why the followings are ungrammatical -

a both interesting and challenging problem. [drop a and it would be fine]

beautiful both Kim and Mery [UNGRAMMATICAL] => both beautiful Kim and Mery [CORRECT]

  • 1
    I think both of your 'correct' phrases are ungrammatical. Hard and fast rules aside, an English speaker would construct this sentence with the adjective phrase 'both interesting and challenging' kept intact, and used as an adjective : 'That problem is both interesting and challenging' or similar.
    – buzzard51
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 21:42
  • I agree with the comment above, your "correct" phrases are not correct, but you're right that OP's first phrase in ungrammatical as well. OP's second, however, is right. The article "an" is needed in this construct unless you rearrange the order.
    – Emmabee
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 14:02
  • @Emmabee yes. I was concentrating on the usage of both, and forgot that without the article it's ungrammatical. I edited my answer. Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 15:48
  • @Man_From_India Your correct examples are still not correct, I'm afraid. As was already mentioned, "both interesting and challenging" is only okay if you're saying "[The problem is] both interesting and challenging." What you have ("both interesting and challenging problem") is not correct. It'd have to be "both an interesting and challenging problem." Similarly, "both beautiful Kim and Mery" is not a grammatical sentence. "Both the beautiful Kim and Mary" is grammatical... but sounds strange to me.
    – Emmabee
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 14:17
  • 1
    @Emmabee I see. I again ignored articles :( But in some cases for example - he always gets drawn to both interesting and challenging problems. I agree it has to be problems, rather than problem. Thanks for your comment. Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 14:23

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