An excellent English translation is the ultimate goal of everyone who has to translate any type of document into English, be it to show to their boss at work or to present a paper at university.
We want to help you achieve that excellent standard in your English translations by sharing with you some important and valuable knowledge about word order in English.
You are probably already aware that every language has its own particularities as regards positioning adjectives before or after nouns. In Portuguese, for example, the meaning of a sentence can vary depending on whether a particular adjective comes before or after the noun. Let’s look at an example: in Portuguese, “velho companheiro” and “companheiro velho” don’t mean the same thing. The former means a long-time companion, whereas the latter means an elderly companion. Another aspect of Portuguese is that nouns are not normally qualified by a large number of adjectives. Two or three would be the usual number and, in such cases, good writers would try to distribute them before and after the noun in no particular order. Or, to be more precise, in no particular order that depends on the meaning or category of the adjectives in question. English, however, takes a very different approach.
Firstly, it is common for nouns to be qualified by a large number of adjectives. And this means greater care is required because the adjectives are not positioned randomly. In other words, native speakers of English instinctively put adjectives in a particular order depending on their meaning. So if you want to make sure you have an excellent English translation, you have to make sure that your word order is impeccable when it comes to adjectives.
In English, word order really matters! Which means you have to be sure you get all your adjectives in the right order.
Take a look at the image below:
This is how to determine the correct sequence when you use more than one adjective to qualify a noun in English:
- Start with the correct article or pronoun
- Opinion (any adjectives that help you convey your opinion: beautiful, ugly, etc.)
- Size (any adjectives that refer to size: big, small, tiny, enormous, etc.)
- Age (any adjectives related to age, e.g. old, young, ageless, etc.)
- Shape (any adjectives that refer to shape, such as: round, square, rectangular, etc.)
- Colour (this one is pretty easy: blue, green, etc.)
- Origin (any adjective that refers to the origin of a person or a thing: American, European, German, etc.)
- Material (the substance that the object you are referring to is made of: bronze, fibre, stone, etc.)
- Purpose (normally verbal nouns such as: singing, building, etc.)
- The noun (and, lastly, the noun we want to qualify)
Let’s make up two example phrases using all of the elements:
- The ugly small old curvy grey German bronze building block.
- A cute tiny young round pink Scottish wooden singing piglet.
Of course you do not have to use all of the different types of adjective for each noun you use. It’s actually very rare to use them all. But whenever you need to qualify a noun with more than one adjective, this is the word order you should use. To help you, we suggest that you keep this short infographic next to you for all your future translations. We think you’ll find it comes in handy.
If you stick to this word order, we guarantee that you’ll be one step closer to achieving the excellent English translation level you’re aiming for.
If you ever need help with a more complex or important project document, don’t hesitate to contact us.
If you would like to obtain more helpful tips and useful information like the ones we have shared in this post, you can download the full e-book here: