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I would say "dotted red line", but I'm very unsure. Dictionary and web searches didn't lead to a definitive answer. This answer points to a British Council link which seems to confirm "dotted red line", but I would be happy to get an answer with references to grammar books or to concrete literature usage. Thank you!

Edit: Of course my question also concerns "solid blue curve", "dashed green circle", and so on.

In my specific case, both adjectives qualify the same line. In preparing plots one can distinguish lines by their colour, but to avoid problems in case of black & white printing, for example, it's useful to add additional distinguishing features such as the continuity (or thickness) of the line . So a plot could consist of a solid thin blue line and a dashed thick red line – or which permutation of the three adjectives should I use?

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    Both are equally fine.
    – MikeB
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 11:09
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    Neither are particularly common, obviously, but the two have been in close competition for generations - until the last couple of decades, which have seen red dotted line gain significant traction. Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 12:25
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    The problem with ngrams, in this case, is that one novel and a few non-native authors are accounting for much of the difference. The phrase is mostly going to appear in technical literature. See the google books search links at the bottom of the ngrams page.
    – James K
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 12:52
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    @JamesK: I'm not convinced nns and/or "technical" contexts are particularly relevant here. Compare my previous link to the same for solid... Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 15:19
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    My point was only that it is useful to look at the contexts that ngrams is finding the various phrases and not just at the solid red and blue curves on the ngrams graphs.
    – James K
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 15:22

1 Answer 1

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Generally shape before colour: "dotted red line", but google finds plenty of results for both.

If you have several dotted lines, and you want to specify the red one then say "the red dotted line", on the other hand if you have several red lines and you want to specify the dotted one, "the dotted red line". If you have a whole mixture then follow shape before colour "the dotted red line", and be aware that there is variation in use.

In particular there is a book with the title A Red Dotted Line (It's a spy novel set in Moscow), and in terms of grammar references, you won't do better than the British Council.

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  • That's an important point indeed, thank you for that observation. Please see the new edit in my question about this point.
    – pglpm
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 12:42
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    I note your edit, but I don't think I change my answer. "both are used, and are understood. If you are worried about it and just want a "rule" then "size before shape before colour" : "solid blue line", "thin dashed green line".
    – James K
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 12:48

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