adjective order in English

The "ugly red wooden box" sounds correct, but the "wooden red ugly box" sounds wrong. There is a "rule" describing the order English adjectives are used in:

  1. Opinion or judgment -- beautiful, ugly, easy, fast, interesting
  2. Size -- small, tall, short, big
  3. Age -- young, old, new, historic, ancient
  4. Shape -- round, square, rectangular
  5. Color -- red, black, green, purple
  6. Nationality -- French, Asian, American, Canadian, Japanese
  7. Material -- wooden, metallic, plastic, glass, paper
  8. Purpose or Qualifier -- foldout sofa, fishing boat, racing car

So: the "beautiful long old curved red Italian steel racing car"

Take care when applying the rule to categorise the adjectives correctly. For example, "The old rotund man read a short old story about an ugly big bear" seems to follow the rules, yet sounds wrong. In this case, "old" and "short" are qualifiers, not merely size or age designations, because "old man" is a social concept on its own, and "short story" is a genre. And "big ugly" is a "commonplace term".

Other languages have similar rules. In English all adjectives go before the noun (except for a few archaisms and for foreign sounding effect): in French, for example, some adjectives go before the noun and some go after it.

This information excerpted from postings to rec.arts.sf.written, October 2000, by
Katie Schwarz, Fred Galvin, and Lucy Kemnitzer