English as a Second Language/Order of adjectives


Dear Shannon,
I have difficulty understanding these phrases (examples take from the order of adjectives):
“Long ancient blue Chinese porcelain flower vases”. I do not know which noun “Chinese” (adjective) modifies.  We have here three nouns (“porcelain”, “flower” and “vases”)?

Also, “A French perfume bottle”. Is the meaning “a bottle of French perfume” or “a French bottle of perfume:.?

BTW, is this sentence correct: "A man or woman can massage her hands with this cream." I am cocerned about the use of "her" noting I have "a man" first. Also, about the use of "her hands" -is "the hands" understood and correct?

Many many thanks in advance.

Hi Antoine,

Yes, when you have a long list of adjectives before a noun (especially if some nouns are being used as adjectives), it can become confusing!  In #1, Chinese probably refers to vases.  It could refer to porcelain (since it is right next to "Chinese"), but it wouldn't refer to flower as it's some distance from it and the word being modified is "vases."  In this sentence, the likely word Chinese modifies is "vases."

2. It means a bottle made in France for the purpose of holding perfume.  Again, it can be tricky, but both adjectives are modifying "bottle."

3. Right...because of the possibility of both, the new English grammar rules indicate you should say "his or her", therefore "A man or woman can massage his or her hands with this cream."

Shannon Cole

English as a Second Language

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Shannon Cole


I can answer questions related to learning the English and Spanish language.


I have taught ESL and Spanish since 1998 at the university and middle school levels. I am a native of the U.S., and have taught in both the U.S. and Mexico.

I am owner and operator of www.coleinstitute.com, an online language school.

Georgia TESOL in Action (1999)

B.A. in Spanish; M.Ed. in Language Education

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I have clients worldwide, some who want their documents proofread, and others who take lessons with me through the Internet. Some work at high-profile companies and government organizations. Besides the U.S. and Mexico, my recent students come from South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, Colombia, Russia, Italy, Paraguay, China, Japan, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia.

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