Arranging words in the right order
If you think you know everything there is to know about the English language – think again! This article will introduce a binding rule of English syntax (i.e. the arrangement of words and phrases in a sentence) that many native English speakers often use correctly but have absolutely no idea why. As a non-native speaker, you can master this magical rule and get one step closer to speaking like a true native speaker.
What’s an adjective?
An adjective, as defined in the Oxford Dictionary, is a word naming an attribute of a noun (a word used to identify any of a class of people, place or things), such as sweet, red or technical. In short, we use adjectives to describe nouns. For example, we could say a ‘beautiful day’, a ‘red chair’ or a ‘technical problem’.
However, once we begin to add multiple adjectives to describe a specific noun, we might wonder what sounds best: ‘a large red chair’ or ‘a red large chair’? A native speaker would tell you that ‘a large red chair’ is absolutely correct, but might not have the corresponding theory to provide you with an explanation off-the-cuff.
What’s the secret?
When using multiple adjective to describe a noun, you can apply the following rule: opinion – size – age – shape – color – origin – material – purpose Noun. So, as explained by Mark Forsyth in his book The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase (2013), you can certainly have a ‘lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife’ but if you mess with that word order in the slightest, you’ll risk losing your near-native speaker charm. As size comes before color, you simply cannot have a ‘red large chair’.
As you can see, English grammar rules can even come as a surprise to native speakers. Before you start sharing this rule with others – and completely blow their minds – try a few practice rounds and correct the following sentences:
- We are looking forward to a long summer nice holiday.
- Our new colleague appears to be a lanky bright young English man.
- They recently bought a wooden large old round beautiful table.
- He was jealous of my new shiny German black sports car.
- I brought a round delicious large casserole to the family picnic.
Scroll down for the right answers!
- nice long summer
- bright young lanky English
- beautiful large old round wooden
- shiny new black German
- delicious large round