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Thanks for your nice, long letter.
Thanks for your nice and long letter.

Which one is correct? What is the difference between them? Can you please describe them with perfect explanation?

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The preferred way of saying -

a nice long letter

and

a nice and long letter


Grammatical Explanation -

An adjective occurs in a noun phrase, in between the determinative (pre determiner + center determiner + post determiner) and the head noun.

At times there might be a need to accommodate more than one adjectives there. In order to determine the order of adjectives it's convenient divide the territory between the determinative and the head noun into four premodification zones (I, II, II, IV).

So the structure of the noun phrase is -

Determinative + [Zone I + Zone II + Zone III + Zone IV] + head-noun

Zone I : Precentral
Examples of adjectives that will sit in this zone are: major, certain, definite, slight etc.

Zone II : Central
Examples of adjectives that will sit in this zone are: new, good, nice, long, beautiful etc.

Zone III : PostCentral
Examples of adjectives that will sit in this zone are: customised, retired, deserted, blue etc.

Zone IV : Prehead
Examples of adjective that will sit in this region are: financial, American, medical etc.

Hence the preferred order is -

A major new customised financial service [Noun Phrase]

Now in our discussion both nice and long fall in Zone II: Central. The adjective - nice - falls under emotive/evaluative group. And so it generally precedes other adjectives in **Zone II*.

So the preferred order is nice long over long nice.


There is another non-grammatical approach to it. It depends mostly on meaning and common sense.

Consider the noun phrase -

A nice long letter.

In order for the letter to be nice, it must be long. So a nice long letter.

But it's very unlikely that in order to be long, the letter must be nice. So we don't say a long nice letter.

In order to determine which adjectives will occur in which zone, please go through the pages from A Comprehensive Grammar of English Language: page no. 437 and 1337 - 1344 (It's hard to copy this huge excerpt here)

Reference - A comprehensive Grammar of English Language

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  • Dude, I should hire you to write some canonical posts. – M.A.R. Mar 9 '16 at 16:37
  • Are you saying that one would not say "...a long, nice letter?" I would disagree. Nice can modify long or letter, but long cannot modify nice. Accordingly, a "nice long letter" could be satisfyingly long or it could be both pleasant and long. A long, nice letter would have to be both long and nice. – Adam Mar 9 '16 at 19:03
  • @Adam I am not saying reversing the order is wrong. Nor am I saying that you have to strictly follow the rule. In my opinion if you reverse the order it's not very common. This rule is based on as I assume what people normally say. This is for the benefit of those whose native tongue is not English. The rule is based on what people normally say. Not that people say it based on this rule :-) – Man_From_India Mar 10 '16 at 1:53
  • @Adam The adjective long can't modify nice or nice can't modify long. That's true, because an adjective can be modified by an adverb normally. Generally an adjective can't modify another adjective. It can however modify a NP. – Man_From_India Mar 10 '16 at 1:57
  • Caveat: Regional reponse. I am describing actual usage in the U.S., rather than formal grammar. The word "nice" is used where you would expect "nicely" all the time. When when someone says "...a nice long letter" they usually mean "...a nicely long letter." The letter is long in a nice way. It is not a letter that is nice and also long. Grammar bedamned, that's just how Americans use "nice [adj] [noun]." .... – Adam Mar 10 '16 at 15:54
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Consider the following:

Be sure to tighten the screw so it's nice and snug.

There, "nice and" means "quite" -- make it quite snug, i.e. not likely to come loose.

Heat this concoction until it's nice and hot.

We don't want the concoction to be tepid.

If all you are receiving is postcards, and you want your correspondent to tell you much more about their trip or stay:

Please send me a letter. I'd like it to be nice and long.

If you mean to say the letter was nice owing in part to its length, you could say:

Thanks for the nice long letter.

If you wanted to make absolutely clear that you think the letter was nice, independent of its length, you'd probably have to choose a different way of saying it:

Thanks for sending such a nice letter. I'm glad it contained so much interesting news.

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  • I am confused. I could not understand the weighty explanation. Sir . Please make me understand in an easy way. – I don't know who I am. Jul 8 '15 at 13:40
  • In speech, one could clarify that the letter was nice by stressing the and long: "Thank you for the nice_ [pause] and long [pause] letter." This is in contrast to the "..the nice'n long letter" which definitely means that the letter was quite long. – Adam Mar 9 '16 at 19:05

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