Did you know adjectives come in a specific order in English?

Matthew Anderson of the BBC pointed out something on Twitter about the English language that I’d never noticed.

The excerpt Anderson quotes comes from The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth (2013).

Mark Forsyth "Elements of Eloquence" excerpt about English language adjectives order

… adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order; opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can’t exist.

I can actually attest to the unconscious nature of the rule. In trying to type “green great dragons” I twice accidentally typed “great green dragons” before finally slowing down and focusing on the effort.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Did you know adjectives come in a specific order in English? by Mark A. Gibbs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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