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The magic in stringing together adjectives

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’.

Test yourself

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:

  1. We are looking forward to a long summer nice holiday.
  2. Our new colleague appears to be a lanky bright young English man.
  3. They recently bought a wooden large old round beautiful table.
  4. He was jealous of my new shiny German black sports car.
  5. I brought a round delicious large casserole to the family picnic.

Scroll down for the right answers!

 

 

 


Answers

  1. nice long summer
  2. bright young lanky English
  3. beautiful large old round wooden
  4. shiny new black German
  5. delicious large round
Alma Bonger
Alma Bonger
Alma is an English language trainer and writer from Canada. She is passionate about education, exploring new cultures, and creative collaboration.

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