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As someone who didn't emphasize on learning grammar at all, I still sometimes find a case that calls for grammar rules.

I was asked which one is correct: fat silly cats or silly fat cats?

Intuitively, I found nothing wrong with both of them. So I searched the web.

The Adjective Order I found from British Council's website is: opinion, size, shape, age, colour, nationality, and material.

This implies that the correct answer should be silly fat cats.

However, based on my googling (is that even a word?), the use of silly fat cats is rare, compared to funny fat cats. But then again, funny fat cats doesn't sound right to me. I would personally prefer big fat funny cats. (I noticed that some people on the web wrote it as big, fat, funny cats, while others simply omitted commas).

So which are the correct usages? (if both are passable, which one is preferred)

  • silly fat cats, or fat silly cats
  • funny fat cats, or fat funny cats
  • funny big fat cats, or big fat funny cats
  • funny really big fat cats, or really big fat funny cats
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silly fat cats (or) fat silly cats

Silly fat cats is more euphonious. Both are grammatically correct.

'Fat cats' idiomatically means rich people, or rich powerful people. So it could be that you are calling those rich people silly, as opposed to calling those silly cats plump.

funny fat cats (or) fat funny cats

The rhythm of these phrases is about the same, so either.

funny big fat cats (or) big fat funny cats

Big fat funny cats rolls off the tongue. It has much better cadence. So definitely big fat funny cats.

funny really big fat cats, or really big fat funny cats

Again, the cadence is the deciding factor - really big fat funny cats.

really in this situation means "very", and modifies the adjective which immediately follows, so you are right to move the adjective "big" along with it...

Compare

A really expensive black leather handbag/purse.

This bag is black, as well as being very expensive.

An expensive really black leather handbag/purse.

This bag is expensive, as well as being very black.

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Silly fat cats sounds like the right order to me.

Funny fat cats sounds better because "funny fat" are alliterative, and fat rhymes with cats, and as any cat lover will tell you, cats are rarely silly in real life, which might explain the low counts on Google.

Big fat funny cats, breaks the 'rules' but it's a good title for a children's story I think, and I wouldn't put funny before big and fat. I don't know why, but "funny big fat cats" doesn't roll off the tongue as easily.

Really (big) funny fat cats I would refrain from adding any more adverbs or adjectives to the list, three adjectives is usually more than enough. Note the absence of commas in the list, because the adjectives are attributive and qualify the noun. If the list of adjectives were to follow the noun then you would have: "The cats are really big, funny and fat."

The British Council is a very reliable and sensible source of practical English rules, and their order of adjectives follow the one suggested by Michael Swan in his Practical English Usage and in New English File Upper-intermediate (Oxford University Press), although they recommend putting "age" in front of "shape/style". They too say opinion adjectives e.g. beautiful, nice, lovely, usually go before fact adjectives, e.g. big, old, round.

size| age | shape/style| colour/pattern | nationality | material | noun
big   new   long          pink             Italian       silk      scarf


When writing, the adverbs really and very should be at the beginning of a similar list. Such as

A really expensive black leather handbag/purse.

It would sound odd to me if I read the following statement

*An expensive really black leather handbag/purse.

I suppose in speech you could get away with this, but less so in writing.

  • Do you see big fat funny cats as an incorrect usage, or it is a passable one while big funny fat cats is more preferred? – Damkerng T. Nov 24 '13 at 17:31
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    @DamkerngT- I actually prefer big fat funny cats over big funny fat cats. – Jim Nov 24 '13 at 17:34
  • This adjective ordering thing is much clearer to me now. Thank you very much! – Damkerng T. Nov 24 '13 at 17:36
  • I'd place funny before size, it's an opinion it's not a fact. "A funny tall comedian" sounds better than "A tall funny comedian". The order of adjectives is complicated, and ultimately not all grammar books agree; and not all writers, native and non, follow the guideline suggested by The British Council. "Big fat funny cats" isn't wrong, and it sounds better than "big funny fat cats" as @Jim noted, so I might edit that bit. – Mari-Lou A Nov 24 '13 at 17:46
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    Note that in this particular example, "fat cat" has an alternative meaning that is probably not what you intended to convey. In order to avoid that, you may choose to move "fat" to an earlier position in the list. – Steve Melnikoff Nov 25 '13 at 14:57

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