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He is a strong healthy man.

He is a healthy strong man.

Which is the correct answer and why?

  • Correct answer to what? What is the question? – Victor Bazarov Aug 18 '15 at 12:27
  • @Victor Bazarov, OP refers to the sequence of the adjectives "healthy" and "strong". – shin Aug 18 '15 at 12:29
  • Yes it's "strong healthy" which is common. I will explain it later. – Man_From_India Aug 22 '15 at 2:04
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Short Answer

Both in American and British corpus, there are entries for this order - strong healthy, and no entry for the reverse order of these two words.

The correct order is - strong healthy.

Long Answer

Grammatical Explanation :-

Adjectives occur in noun phrase. Within noun phrase, the correct position of adjective is between the determiner and the head noun.
But what if there are more than one adjective present? We need to learn the correct ordering of adjectives.

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:

i) Emphasizers - Example - certain, definite, plain, pure, sheer etc.
ii) Amplifiers - Example - absolute, entire, extreme, perfect, total etc. iii) Downtoners - Example - feeble, slight etc.

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

The adjectives in this zone must satisfy the four criteria -
i) They can sit in attributive position. Eg: "a cold day" etc.
ii) They can sit in predicative position. Eg: "The day is cold"
iii) They can take comparative and superlative form. It can be achieved by means of inflection or by addition of more and most. Eg: colder, coldest etc.
iv) They can be premodified by the intensifier - very. Eg: "very cold" etc.

If there are more than one adjective in central position, the general order is -

NONDERIVED (Ex: good, bad, strong etc) + DEVERBIAL (Ex: interesting etc) + DENOMINAL (Ex: angry, rainy, peaceful, healthy etc)

Within the class of NONDERIVED adjectives the order is -

SIZE + LENGTH + HEIGHT

That's why we prefer a small round table to a round small table

When we have some EMOTIVE adjectives (Eg: lovely, nice, wonderful etc), it generally precedes other central adjectives.

Example - beautiful worm weather.

Zone III : PostCentral
Examples of adjectives that will sit in this zone are:

i) Participles - Eg: retired, working etc.
ii) Colour adjectives - Eg: blue, dark etc.

Zone IV : Prehead
Examples of adjective that will sit in this region are:

i) Adjectives with a proper noun basis denoting nationality, provenance and style. Example: American, Gothic etc.
ii) Other adjectives with a morphological or semantic relation to nouns often with the meaning "consisting of", "involving" or "relating to". Example: annual, social, economic etc.
iii) Nouns. Example: "tourist attraction", "college student" etc.

So the right order is - strong healthy

Non grammatical approach -

In order to be strong, you have to be healthy. So it's strong[healthy man]. But it's very unlikely that in order to be healthy, you have to be strong.

Reference - A comprehensive Grammar of English Language 17.113

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Based on the source: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/adjectives/order-adjectives

Adjectives usually come in this order: General opinion, Specific opinion, Size, Shape, Age, Colour, Nationality, Material.

"Strong" and "healthy" are under 'Opinion'; hence, we differentiate which one is general and which one is specific.

Again, from the source:

Some adjectives give a general opinion. We can use these adjectives to describe almost any noun.

E.g., good, bad, lovely, strange, beautiful, nice, brilliant, excellent, awful, important, wonderful, nasty

Some adjectives give a specific opinion. We ONLY use these adjectives to describe particular kinds of noun

E.g., Food: tasty; delicious Furniture, buildings: comfortable; uncomfortable People, animals: clever; intelligent; friendly

I believe that strong is general and healthy is specific. i.e., we can use both adjectives to humans, animals, economy, etc. but I cannot say "healthy wall" or "healthy keyboard" (which provides that 'strong' has a broader scope than 'healthy'.) [I am sure there are other considerations here, but I am answering based on the common usage of "strong" and "healthy", we say, "strong building", not "healthy building". "Strong odour", not "healthy odour".]

So the answer would be, "He is a strong healthy man."

Kindly note that there is no rigid rule on specifying which is broader between the two, so we also encounter, "He is a healthy strong man." (Again, I based the above reason on common usage.)

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