The other day I came across an article about the position of adjectives in a sentence, why I in this post will talk about adjectives in general and compare the positionof adjectives in different languages.
Before going on to the actual position of adjectives, it might be good to define an adjective.
An adjective is a word that describes a noun or a pronoun, most of the time adjectives are used to give a more descriptive picture of the noun/pronoun. So instead of saying: it was a car, with doors that was used for the bank rubbery – it would be more helpful to tell the police that it was a big blue van, with 3 blue and one red door that was used as getaway car for the rubbery.
Adjectives are therefore words that describes X: e.g. a color, shape, size, feeling etc.
Position of adjectives in a sentence
In English, Danish, German, Spanish and French (and many other languages) we place the adjective(s) directly before the noun that it describes. Placing it randomly in the sentence might create confusion of how to understand the sentence or give the sentence a new meaning.
There are, however, some languages where it’s possible to change the word order of the sentence completely and still being able to figure out, what belongs to what. This goes especially for Latin, where each adjective(+ noun) has a characteristic ending, which tells us, whether it’s part of the subject, accusative object, dative object, genitive, ablative etc. This can to some extend also be seen in Russian Greek and German. In German however, you only see the inflection of the pronouns and adjectives.
Inflected and analytic languages
Languages, which are to be understood through the word’s declension, are known as inflected languages. Meaning that in Latin, the word order isn’t important only the declension of the word, as it describes which function it has in the sentence.
On the other hand we have languages such as e.g. English and Danish, which are analytic, here the meaning is derived from the order of the words and persons.
E.g. of an analytic sentence:
The dog saw the cat and ran -> the cat saw the dog and ran. (Here the meaning changes, as the subject stands before the object).
Placing adjectives in a sequence
In some cases you might need more than one adjective to describe an object/person. In case you have more adjectives following each other like in a sequence, there is a certain order the adjectives must follow:
- Determiners – a, an, the, my, your, several, etc.
- Opinion – lovely, boring, stimulating, etc.
- Size – tiny, small, huge, etc.
- Shape – round, square, rectangular, etc.
- Age – old, new, ancient, etc.
- Color – red, blue, green, etc.
- Origin/Nationality – British, American, Mexican, etc.
- Material – gold, copper, silk, etc.
- Qualifier – limiters for compound nouns.
The list above goes for English, but it is quite similar in e.g. Danish: vurdering, størrelse, alder, farve, nationalitet, material (Opinion, size, age, color, nationality & material) and my guess would be, without having researched it, that it goes for many other languages as well.