shape
carat
color
clarity

For my fellow language geeks!

Dee*Jay

Super_Ideal_Rock
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13,933
I found this fascinating! (Yes... I know... I need to get a life!)

This Is the Most Bizarre Grammar Rule You Probably Never Heard Of

Adjectives in English must always be used in a very precise order. And even though none of us has officially learned this rule, placeholder we somehow all know to follow it, and that things seem very wrong whenever it’s broken.

Life is full of strange rules that we know but can’t say how. English grammar is too. One of the most perplexing rules--at least to non-native English speakers--is the complex rule that governs the precise order in which adjectives must be used. In 2016, The New York Times’ European culture editor Matthew Anderson spelled it out in a tweet that’s been re-tweeted more than 52,000 times:

Things native English speakers know, but don’t know we know: pic.twitter.com/Ex0Ui9oBSL
-- Matthew Anderson (@MattAndersonNYT) September 3, 2016

Anderson is quoting Mark Forsyth's book The Elements of Eloquence, and Forsyth lays out the rule beautiful with the example of a “lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife.” Think about it: You cannot move the order of those adjectives at all without having the sentence seem completely wrong. “Lovely little silver French green whittling old knife?” That sounds like word salad--which is a well-known symptom of mental illness.

Since we all seem to know this rule by instinct, it would seem to be cut and dried, but it isn't quite. Forsyth says there are eight types of adjectives, which should be used in this order:

1. Opinion
2. Size
3. Age
4. Shape
5. Color
6. Origin
7. Material
8. Purpose

But then, the Cambridge Dictionary--which certainly seems like an authoritative source--offers a placeholderlist of ten types of adjectives in a slightly different order:

1. Opinion
2. Size
3. Physical quality
4. Shape
5. Age
6. Color
7. Origin
8. Material
9. Type
10. Purpose

So, according to Cambridge, it should be a “lovely little rectangular old green French silver whittling knife,” which seems completely wrong to me. My instincts say “old” should come “rectangular,” not the other way around. To further complicate matters, Cambridge lists “U-shaped” as an example of type, rather than shape as you might have expected.

In other words, even this supposedly ironclad rule that we all seem to know by instinct is tangled up and subject to debate. And don’t even get me started on what to do if you have two adjectives of the same type, say a “lovely valuable little old green French silver whittling knife.” Or when and whether you should use a comma, or the word “and.”

As someone with an advanced degree in English, an amateur linguist, and a lifelong professional writer, my best advice is this: When it comes to adjective order, you should probably follow your instincts. And you should definitely not have ten, eight, or even four adjectives piled up ahead of a noun. Adding adjectives to your sentences should be like adding spices to your cooking: Use them thoughtfully, sparingly, and when they'll have the most impact. Not only will that make your writing better, it will save you from having to worry so much about putting adjectives in the right order.
 

VRBeauty

Super_Ideal_Rock
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Messages
10,500
It fascinated me how much of grammar I “know” but don’t know! I have a cousin in Europe who is about my age. He was taught English in school from kindergarten on, and went to the highest level of university - though not as an English or linguistics major. When I visited his family shortly after graduating from high school, he’d occasionally ask me about my choice of words. Even though I was a voracious reader, aced my verbal SATs, etc... it was clear that his understanding of the rules of English grammar was much better than mine.

I had never heard or thought about this little “rule.”
 

stracci2000

Ideal_Rock
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This is so interesting.
How do we somehow know the order of the adjectives?
Why does it matter? But yet it does.
And I really wanna see that whittling knife!
 

Dee*Jay

Super_Ideal_Rock
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It fascinated me how much of grammar I “know” but don’t know! I have a cousin in Europe who is about my age. He was taught English in school from kindergarten on, and went to the highest level of university - though not as an English or linguistics major. When I visited his family shortly after graduating from high school, he’d occasionally ask me about my choice of words. Even though I was a voracious reader, aced my verbal SATs, etc... it was clear that his understanding of the rules of English grammar was much better than mine.

I had never heard or thought about this little “rule.”

I wonder how much of our language "rules" are learned vs. taught!
 

Dee*Jay

Super_Ideal_Rock
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This is so interesting.
How do we somehow know the order of the adjectives?
Why does it matter? But yet it does.
And I really wanna see that whittling knife!

LOL -- I thought the exact same think about wanting to see the knife!
 

kenny

Super_Ideal_Rock
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Apr 30, 2005
Messages
30,506
I thought grammar had been replaced by the woke PC rule, 'do whaeverthefvk you want.

Then use that writing-make-up company Grammarly (now worth over a billion dollars), to wipe up the drivel that drools from your lazy uneducated mind so people think you are less stoopid.
I think grammarly pisses me off so much is because i could use it, and I generally hate how for a hundred years new tech has made us dumber and dumber.

Seriously, it's refreshing to see people who care about writing well ... not that my writing is anything to be proud of.
 
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Daisys and Diamonds

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Messages
11,960
I might not be able to spell but it gets my goat to read all the dreadful grammer and punctuation errors in news stories.
 

Karl_K

Super_Ideal_Rock
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11,537
Learned it in grade school as: size, age,color,type or description.
The huge old red dump truck.
The large purple 1980s cargo van. (1980s is a description not an age.)
The large 40 year old purple cargo van.
 

AllAboardTheBlingTrain

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Messages
1,606
A teacher once told me that this is why though english is considered an easy language to learn, since it has done away with so many of the grammatical hang ups of other languages (like gendered objects, and case-based verb inflection - to a large extent, amongst others); it has a ton of obscure rules and lots of exceptions which makes it a difficult language to master. I’m glad I speak English “natively” when I come across random grammatical rules!
 

AGBF

Super_Ideal_Rock
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I am a grammar buff (as is my husband) and I never heard of this. Karl, you went to a very advanced school!
 

Karl_K

Super_Ideal_Rock
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another one is "at" or "on" for an address.
The blue house on 5th street.
The blue house at 1485 5th street.

"at" is for a specific address and "on" is for somewhere on that street.
 

voce

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English is a second language for me, and I mostly only correct grammatical issues in written English. I think that this language requires an intuitive ability with language in general in order to master, since no one memorizes grammar. The majority of native English speakers I encounter have not yet mastered their own language, if the mastery entails obscure rules as these.
 
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