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How appropriate is in English the use of a single adjective to modify several nouns?

Example 1: Can we say: different places and orientations instead of different places and different orientations?

Example 2: Give me the red pants, socks and shirt instead of Give me the red pants, the red socks and the red shirt?

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    That's completely allowable and understandable in English. However, it's not always be clear how far the adjective is supposed to be applied, so there is potential for misunderstanding. – J.R. Jan 13 '15 at 16:25
  • @J.R., I remark that you did not change any word in my question just you formatted it in italic police. Any way. no problem. – BetterEnglish Jan 13 '15 at 16:29
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    J.R. did change words - he fixed the spelling of "example." I added the italics because they make the question easier to read by creating visual chunking around the clauses you are asking about. "Italic police" is a confusing word choice for me - I did not mean to enforce any policy, I just wanted potential answer-ers to have an easier time identifying the question, thereby improving your chances of getting good answers. – Adam Jan 13 '15 at 16:59
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It is entirely appropriate, and quite common. As has been pointed out, there is potential for ambiguity. Some of the ambiguity can be resolved by repeating the article when the adjective is not meant to apply to all the nouns:

Give me the red pants, socks and shirt

The pants, socks and shirt are all red.

Give me the red pants, the socks and the shirt?

The pants are red. The socks and shirt may or may not be.


The young men and women chose the green door.

Young men and young women chose the green door.

The young men and the women chose the green door.

The young men and the women of all ages chose the green door.


This separation can be accomplished with article, a determiner or a a quantifier

The house was crammed with beautiful furniture and cats.

The furniture was beautiful and the cats were beautiful.

The house was crammed with beautiful furniture and some cats.

The furniture was beautiful. The cats weren't.

The house was crammed with beautiful furniture and fifteen cats.

The furniture was beautiful. The cats were plentiful.

If the cats were also beautiful, you'd have to spell it out:

The house was crammed with beautiful furniture and fifteen beautiful cats.


You may repeat the article and adjective for emphasis: A common children's story tells of a little girl who breaks into a houseful of bears, and at each stage of her exploration, uses all of the baby bear's things:

Goldilocks chose the small bowl, the small chair, and the small bed.

If you did not spell it out like that, with the adjective repeated, it would still be grammatical:

Goldilocks chose the small bowl, chair, and bed.

It works fine, but does not do as good a job of pointing out that each selection was part of a separate decision-making process - it makes it sound as if she chose the baby's things in a package.

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According to Collins Cobuild English Grammar, you use only one adjective. The following is a statement directly quoted from the grammar.

When you are linking two nouns, an adjective in front of the first noun is normally interpreted as applying to both nouns.

...the young men and women of England

... a house crammed with beautiful furniture and china

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