Adjectives—what you never knew you knew
From The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth (2013)
Tweeted by Matt Anderson in 2016; adapted
It’s a book that many won’t get around to reading, but Matt Anderson of the BBC did, and his tweet about it went viral.
Mark Forsyth, author of the book, suggests that in English, adjectives should follow a specific order if more than one is used to describe a single noun. In his words, the order should be:
“opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, purpose Noun”
The example he gives is: 'a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife'.
Of course, most mother-tongue English speakers who see this are either astounded by it, or quick to try and prove it wrong.
Whatever you believe, it’s true that while a big yellow shopping bag is definitely a thing, a yellow big shopping bag—or even a yellow shopping big bag—simply cannot be. Mark Forsyth uses the example of 'green great dragons' which, as he says, don’t exist.
Imagine having to LEARN something like that.
If you are a mother-tongue speaker of English
do not take it for granted.