1

There is a phrase in the following question:

a big ideal house

Is this the correct order of adjectives? I thought that "opinion" adjective 'ideal' should go before "size" adjective 'big'.

  • 3
    "An ideal spacious house" sounds a little off to me, as does "A spacious ideal house", but the former is the better choice. Mixing ideal with generic adjectival modifiers is semantically problematic, since ideal encompasses all generic properties. Most often, you find {determiner} + ideal + {noun}. But the particular modifier should come second: an ideal air-conditioned house. An ideal rental property. An ideal three-bedroom flat – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 6 '16 at 11:57
  • 1
    @TRomano Exactly my thought. "Big" is part of the house being "ideal", so listing them like this simply feels off. – Catija Dec 6 '16 at 14:28
3

The phrase in question appears in this sentence: 

I often think about a big ideal house in the suburbs I would live in without noisy neighbors to disturb me. 

The word "ideal" has more than one sense.  In this context, "ideal" seems to mean something closer to "imaginary" than "optimal".  If so, it represents a material or a type rather than an opinion.  The word order in "a big imaginary house" is natural, and it runs parallel to "a big brick house" and "a big colonial house".  I find "a big ideal house" to be unremarkable in this context. 
 

Native English speakers are remarkably consistent in the order of adjectives that we use.  However, the order of adjectives in English is not set in stone.  We are consistent despite the fact that most of us were never taught to use a particular order.  We are consistent even in the way that we change this order in different contexts or for different types of emphasis.  There exists some intuitive organizing principle behind this order that is so simple that native speakers learn it without even realizing that we have.  We can't easily explain it.  It's an unknown known.  We possess this knowledge without being aware that we possess it. 

To borrow a bit of Taoist wisdom, the order of adjectives that can be listed is not the true order of adjectives.  Any such list is a rule of thumb, an approximation, or a set of mental training wheels.  Treat any such list as a tool rather than a law. 

2

Your 'thought' matches that of Cambridge Dictionary's entry on the order of the adjectives. In other words, that sentence could be written better as '..an ideal big house...'

Nevertheless, you may find native speakers who don't bother the 'order' in speaking. For instance, Russel Howard once said, "I’d love to do a proper big amazing comedy film."

  • 1
    Is it appropriate to use such order in the context of the test question? The original question was taken from the test set frequently used for English exam preparation in the Russian schools. – AlexD Dec 6 '16 at 11:50
  • 1
    It's worth noting that the guideline calls this the "most usual" sequence. It's not meant to be a rule that's firmly adhered to. Occasionally, the words will sound more natural when said in a order different from the order listed. – J.R. Dec 6 '16 at 15:46
  • @AlexD, no! I'd stick to the classics! – Maulik V Dec 6 '16 at 16:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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