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When having two continuous adjectives, how should I choose what will be first in a sentence? or it doesn't matter?

For example:

He's "religious Christian"

or

"He's Christian religious"?

I want to say that he's deeply religious and goes to church twice a week. But both are adjectives: religious and Christian and I'm not sure about the order in such case.

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    While not an answer to your question, the more common way to state this would be "He's a devout Christian." – JeffC May 2 '18 at 13:55
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    What is more, calling someone both Christian and religious is tautological: being Christian already implies being religious. So you won't see people do this any more than you'll see them calling someone German European. The order is not the problem, it's that you're combining them at all. – reinierpost May 2 '18 at 16:27
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    @reinierpost I'm a non-religious Jew. I don't believe in the God of the Bible, but I still participate in some of the traditions with my family. Religious groups are also cultural groups, you can belong to them without believing all the precepts. – Barmar May 2 '18 at 18:00
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    @Bamar: yes, you can be a nonreligious Jew, but I don't think you can be a nonreligious Christian. I agree it would make sense to use the word 'Christian' in that way, but I don't think it happens very often. – reinierpost May 2 '18 at 22:34
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    @reinierpost Many Christians would disagree with you. It's widely regarded as a problem that a large number of churches are abandoning long standing doctrine and de-emphasizing the impact the faith is supposed to have on your life. "Religious Christian" may not be the most common turn of phrase, but I would understand it to mean that the person takes the faith seriously, in contrast with cultural Christians and casual Christians. – jpmc26 May 3 '18 at 3:18
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The words Christian and religious both can be either adjectives or nouns. Both of your sentences make sense if you add in the indefinite article, but they mean different things (and the second one uses somewhat specialized terminology).

Using Christian as a noun and religious as an adjective:

He's a religious Christian.

This means that he is a Christian (a noun - scroll down at the dictionary link you gave in your question and you'll see that there's a noun definition) who is more than just casually Christian. More often, the adjective "devout" is used to mean "very observant."

Using religious as a noun and Christian as the adjective:

He's a Christian religious.

This is the one that's a bit more unusual. As a noun, a religious is someone who is a member of a religious order, like a monk. This is honestly a fairly rare usage of this word that even a lot of native English speakers would be unfamiliar with, so if you want to say that someone is a monk and you're not speaking to people who deal with members of religious orders on a regular basis, you should probably just say, "He's a Christian monk."

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    I would even argue that "religious" as a noun is archaic usage. – user151841 May 2 '18 at 14:50
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    @user151841 - That's what I had written originally, but someone commented that it is still in contemporary use within the Catholic church, so that's why I changed it to "specialized" rather than "archaic." – Canadian Yankee May 2 '18 at 14:54
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    @user151841 Uncommon is not the same thing as archaic. It's the proper term for members of religious institutes in contrast to diocesan clerics, for example. – choster May 2 '18 at 16:34
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    If "religious" as a noun is only found in the Catholic Church (a Christian denomination) then saying "a Christian religious" is a tautology. The answers here should help people with similar questions. After all, someone asking if it is grammatically correct to call someone "a Buddhist religious" would almost certainly be directed here and the question deleted as a duplicate. I would recommend removing the suggestion that "religious" is a noun, it really confuses this otherwise good answer. – Astralbee May 3 '18 at 9:32
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    @choster You are probably right, but the problem is that the OP wants a lesson on English, not theology. This lengthy discussion demonstrates that even among English speakers there is confusion because of the different faiths that may or may not use the word. Fact is, Buddhism, Catholicism and Judaism (all mentioned above) are rooted in non-English languages (Sanskrit, Latin, Hebrew) and some of the English words used by these faiths are actually bad substitutes anyway. – Astralbee May 3 '18 at 14:36
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While I don't dispute Canadian Yankee's excellent answer, if you specifically wanted to know which order these should go in if you want to use them both as adjectives, then the answer is, it depends on what you want to emphasize.

The more common order would be this:

He's a religious Christian man.

That means he's a Christian man who is very devout.

However, if you want to emphasize that he's a very devout man whose flavor of religion is Christian, you could use the opposite order:

He's a Christian religious man.

That is less idiomatic, but might be appropriate in some contexts.

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    +1 for answering OP's actual question. I'd add that the second example would perhaps point to an official in the church (eg: a rabbi is a Jewish religious man, a priest is a Christian religious man and an imam is an Islamic religious man). – mcalex May 2 '18 at 7:45
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    I could also see the second case being used in response to a question. If a highly orthodox Jewish father was asking his daughter about her new fiance, and asked "Is he religious?" He and the daughter may both recognize that he's asking if the fiance is Jewish. However, rather than saying "no," which might be bad, she might twist it and say "He's Christian religious," indicating that he is indeed religious, but slightly different than the father might have expected. – Cort Ammon May 2 '18 at 18:51
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Honestly, neither of these sounds like proper English so I'm not sure if it's best to answer the question itself (the order of adjectives) or help rephrase the sentence.

We would tend to say, in English, for what you describe, simply "He's a devout Christian" with one adejctive and one noun.

To address the original question, English has a fairly strict set order for adjectives depending on the type of adjectives used. This is something which is taught to foreign learners of the language but native speakers tend to acquire naturally.

Quantity, quality (opinion), size, age, shape, colour, proper adjectives, e.g. French, purpose, qualifier

Changing the order can affect the meaning of the sentence.

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    'Devout Christian' is a much better way of phrasing the Asker's intent than 'religious Christian' which sounds like it is trying to distinguish from 'cultural Christian'. – Jack Aidley May 2 '18 at 9:21
  • @pickarooney so in what cases people tend to use "religious" adjective? – Witty loquacity May 2 '18 at 14:03
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    The adjective religious is generally used in contrast to secular or non-religious. A "religious high school" would teach a particular religious doctrine to its students, as opposed to a "secular high school," which doesn't. That's why "religous Christian" sounds a little weird - Christianity is already a religion, so saying "religious Christian" is redundant. – Canadian Yankee May 2 '18 at 14:59
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    religious = practicing the form, devout = believing the truths. The latter might be a more common expression, but it doesn't mean the same thing. – Pete Kirkham May 2 '18 at 15:22
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    @subtle_sibling "He's very religious" on its own is fine; it just doesn't go well with 'Christian/Muslim/Hindu...' "He's a religious man" is also fine, but ambiguous as it might be taken to mean he's a priest/monk/imam... – pickarooney May 2 '18 at 15:26
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While the other answers are good for your specific sentence, in general, in English we don't say

[noun] is [adjective] [adjective] .

we say

[noun] is [adjective] and [adjective].

So it would be grammatical to say "He is religious and Christian." or "He is Christian and religious." but neither "He is religious Christian" or "He is Christian religious" will sound right to a native speaker.

Other examples:

"The tablecloth is white and lacy." is correct and "The tablecloth is white lacy." is not.

  • Someone who has been baptized is a Christian. Christian derives from the verb "christen", to give a child a name. Hence Christian is also a noun, it is misleading and wrong to say that "He is a religious Christian" is [noun] is + [adjective] + [adjective]. It's not. It's pronoun + be + a/an + adj + (Proper) noun. – Mari-Lou A May 2 '18 at 18:03
  • @Mari-LouA OP calls them both adjectives in the question, and I wanted to include an answer that addressed them as "two continuous adjectives" not an adjective and a noun. – MMAdams May 2 '18 at 18:05
  • But your answer will be read by other visitors and users. It is perfectly acceptable to have three adjectives in a row i.e. Subject + be + a/an + adj + adj+ adj + noun e.g. She is a young devout Spanish Christian – Mari-Lou A May 2 '18 at 18:11
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    @Mari-LouA Yes, but not "She is young devout Spanish Christian". If you don't have the article 'a' it's not a sentence. – MMAdams May 2 '18 at 18:55
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Other posters have talked about the order of cumulative adjectives, but I don't think that really applies when the adjectives are the complement of the copula. A copula can't take cumulative adjectives:

"It's a red coat" ✅
"The coat is red" ✅
"It's an amazing red coat" ✅
"The coat is amazing red" ❌
"The red coat is amazing" ✅

So while you can say "The religious Christian man", you can't say "The man is religious Christian".[1] There are several other options:

Change the adjectives to coordinate adjectives: "He's Christian and religious"
Use "Christian" as a noun: "He's a religious Christian"
Turn "religious" into an adverb: "He's religiously Christian"

You can also use another word, such "He's a devout Christian".

[1] There are cases such as "He is fake Christian", that might appear to be exceptions, but a full analysis of those usages is beyond the scope of this question.

  • Interestingly enough, though, we could say: The coat is an amazing red. – J.R. May 3 '18 at 1:35
  • @J.R. We could, but it means the red is amazing, rather than the coat. – jpmc26 May 3 '18 at 3:20
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The order matters as explained here: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/about-adjectives-and-adverbs/adjectives-order

Quoting from the above source

Adjectives which describe opinions or attitudes (e.g. amazing) usually come first, before more neutral, factual ones (e.g. red):

She was wearing an amazing red coat.

Not: … red amazing coat

In your example, religious is an opinion and Christian is neutral/factual and hence the order is religious Christian.

  • The distinction you're making between Christian being a fact and religious being an opinion is problematic here. If I think someone is Christian, that might be my opinion. If I know for certain that the person identifies as Christian, then it follows that it is also a fact that the person is religious to some degree or other. – joiedevivre May 2 '18 at 9:08
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    I gave this an upvote for the link to the adjective order rules, but I think your interpretation of how they apply in this situation is questionable. – Jack Aidley May 2 '18 at 9:17
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    Someone being religious is more of an opinion than someone being a Christian. A person's religion is provable (by self-confession or documented) while religiosity is subjective. Hence, while both adjectives are not facts or opinions in the absolute sense, relatively, religiosity is more of an opinion. – Jeryl Vaz May 2 '18 at 9:27
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    @joiedevivre I guess you're not familiar with American politicians. – Jeanne Pindar May 2 '18 at 14:17
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Maybe substitute Christian -> American (or any nationality of your choice) and religious -> patriotic.

You'll then see that 'He's a patriotic American' reads much better than 'He's an American patriotic`. The second form might be common in poetry, but I doubt you'll see it much in prose.

If you're thinking it of a sentence along the lines of 'He's an American patriot', then the equivalent here would be 'He's a christian (evangelist? / apologist?) ...' - not sure what the equivalent word for 'religion' is. Certainly isn't 'religionist', even if that's a valid word.

  • In the example you've given, "He's a patriotic American", the word "American" is actually a noun (and this is partly why the inverse order sounds wrong.) You are right about the ordering, but a better example would be "He's a patriotic American man" (good) vs. "He's an American patriotic man" (bad). – Hutch May 2 '18 at 19:52
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"Christian" can either a noun or an adjective.

For example:

NOUN: He is a Christian.
ADJECTIVE: Fighting is not a Christian thing to do.

"Religious" is normally only used as an adjective. (Other answers and subsequent comments have noted that the word can be used as a noun but only in certain denominations, and notably faiths that historically use Hebrew or Latin as a language. I would suggest that this be disregarded if your goal is to be understood by most English speakers rather than appeal to a particular faith)

Your stated goal is to describe someone as deeply religious.
You describe using an adjective, and it would be incorrect to say:

He is a religious.

Therefore by the same reasoning it is also incorrect to say in English "he is a Christian religious".

The following are grammatically acceptable and will be understood by most English speakers regardless of their religious views:

  • He is Christian (using Christian as an adjective)
  • He is a Christian (using Christian as a noun)
  • He is religious
  • He is a religious Christian

Debates about what is / is not correct on other answers seem to be about differing religious doctrines, not common English usage.

To be understood by most people, keep it simple. You may be better using an alternative adjective to describe the person's devotion to Christanity, such as:

  • Zealous
  • Active
  • Devoted
  • Staunch
  • Devout

This would also address the issue that "a religious Christian" is technically a tautology - that is repeating the same thing twice, like saying "a clever genius".

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