Let’s talk about eloquence on a rainy Tuesday afternoon in October. Sentence structure and sharing our ideas clearly is so important in any language, but we know how tricky it can be to get those words into the right order when studying a new language. There really is no exception to the rule when speaking about word order in English, so the good news is that once you learn the rule, you will not make mistakes!
In Jason Kottke’s article, inspired by Mark Forsyth’s book The Elements of Eloquence Jason states, “…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.”
While the Cambridge dictionary gives us a slightly different order: Opinion, Size, Quality, Shape, Age, Colour, Origin, Material, Type and Purpose, Noun.
In other words, for a native speaker, this order is intuitive and learned. We know exactly how to construct the sentence, but we wouldn’t know how to tell you what order those words should be in. It’s the typical comment, “that’s just the way it is…” but in all truth, there is an actual order to it.
So, why don’t we try? Put the following words into the correct order:
1. table, a, square, wooden, big:
2. the,cup, tiny, plastic, blue, expensive
3. black, small, box, Turkish, old, a
Want more practice? Check out these links:
And an exercise on word order in general: https://www.ego4u.com/en/cram-up/grammar/word-order/exercises?02
Finally, a lovely poem on word order by Alexandra Teague:
That summer, she had a student who was obsessed with the order of adjectives. A soldier in the South Vietnamese army, he had been taken prisoner when Saigon fell. He wanted to know why the order could not be altered. The sweltering city streets shook with rockets and helicopters. The city sweltering streets. On the dusty brown field of the chalkboard, she wrote: The mother took warm homemade bread from the oven. City is essential to streets as homemade is essential to bread . He copied this down, but he wanted to know if his brothers were lost before older, if he worked security at a twenty-story modern downtown bank or downtown twenty-story modern. When he first arrived, he did not know enough English to order a sandwich. He asked her to explain each part of Lovely big rectangular old red English Catholic leather Bible. Evaluation before size. Age before color. Nationality before religion. Time before length. Adding and, one could determine if two adjectives were equal. After Saigon fell, he had survived nine long years of torture. Nine and long. He knew no other way to say this.
From Mortal Geography by Alexandra Teague. Copyright © 2010 by Alexandra Teague. Used by permission of Persea Books.
Post Insipired by: http://cupofjo.com/2016/09/grammar-rule/