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Which of the two following sentences is more appropriate?

  1. Children ate the three remaining cookies.
  2. Children ate the remaining three cookies.

In the sentences, the is article-determiner; three is number-determiner; remaining is adjective; cookies is noun;

Similar question has been asked here and this website also gives sufficient details on the order of determiners in a noun phrase. According to the rules mentioned on these links, the first sentence seems appropriate.

But I checked with many of my friends and they told me that second was right.

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    I think both can be correct. – user178049 Jan 10 at 17:42
  • The adjective makes a difference: The stale three cookies would be unnatural. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 10 at 20:18
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A couple of centuries ago it would almost always have been the three remaining cookies (except cookies wasn't very common then! :) Probably because back then schoolteachers were more likely to be (prescriptively) telling their pupils how they should speak (see this webpage, specifying that adjectives of Quantity or Number come before Quality or Opinion).

But some aspects of usage have changed over time, even though not many grammar books will have been updated to reflect this....

pic

Personally, I've no particular preference for OP's exact example, except to point out that I'd probably choose to put the contextually more important adjectival element last. It feels much more natural for me to place heavy stress on the final adjective before the noun, so if I wanted to call attention to the fact that there were three (not just one or two, and certainly not half-a-dozen or more), I'd say the remaining three cookies (with the highlighted number being spoken more loudly). As an example context...

I brought a dozen cookies out to the adults' table, but most people said they were full up, so I took half back to the kitchen straight away. Mr & Mrs Smith politely ate one each, and Mr Brown slipped one to the dog under the table. Children ate the remaining three cookies.

...where the "emphasis" (such as it is) might be partly "justified" by the fact that I've effectively been guiding my audience through a slightly complex bit of arithmetic, wherein "three" is the final answer.

  • The idea of emphasis on an adjective while we decide the order is something new. I did not know that. It does help to clarify my query to some extent. So, if I say, three remaining cookies, am I stressing 'remaining' and not three? – SourabhJain Jan 10 at 19:11
  • @soura I think Fumble is probably correct. We tend to remember the most recent information better because it's freshest in our memory. So the most recent adjective or determiner in a series, being the last one of the bunch, would be emphasized simply because of this. It's not a "rule" but a natural result of how we process information. So to answer your question: If you say "three remaining cookies" the emphasis would be on the fact that they are remaining, and less that there are three of them. – rpeinhardt Jan 10 at 19:37
  • @rpeinhardt: I'm not sure it's relevant to the specific question and answer here, because to a first approximation there is no "default preferred order" for the two words three and remaining. There's definitely a default order for, say, the big yellow taxi though. But it's still quite possible to contrive contexts where the yellow big taxi might be preferred - there are many taxis, mostly standard-sized + yellow, but speaker is specifically referencing one of the two big ones, which is yellow (the other is black). – FumbleFingers Jan 11 at 13:57
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I think you are correct in assessing the grammatically correct order but, in daily use, either would sound perfectly fine to a listener.

I would hazard to guess that, at least an the USA, the first version would be more prevalent.

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    I would hazard a guess that you're right. I've long held the opinion that American schools are more likely to spend time drumming "rules" of language into their charges than British schools, and although "number" doesn't always figure in those "Royal Order of Adjectives" lists, if it is present, it's usually nearer the front than trickier attributes such as remaining. – FumbleFingers Jan 10 at 18:59
  • @FumbleFingers: I was gonna ask that. Are 'numbers' considered as adjectives or determiners? In the order of adjectives, numbers come before other adjectives. So, 'the three remaining' is appropriate. By " it's usually nearer the front than trickier attributes such as remaining. –", do you mean closer to noun? if so, the remaining three...would be appropriate. – SourabhJain Jan 10 at 19:05
  • I'm not sure what you mean by "appropriate". For your specific example three remaining cookies / remaining three cookies, I would say it's usually meaningless to think of either as being more or less appropriate. Except perhaps in certain special contexts as per my answer, but that's more a matter of my personal preference (subjective) than anything to do with (objective) appropriateness. – FumbleFingers Jan 11 at 13:19

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