Rules Of Order

Here’s something interesting:

Hyperbaton is when you put words in an odd order, which is very, very difficult to do in English. Given that almost everything else in the English language is slapdash, happy-go-lucky, care-may-the-Devil, word order is surprisingly strict. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote his first story aged seven. It was about a “green great dragon.” He showed it to his mother who told him that you absolutely couldn’t have a green great dragon, and that it had to be a great green one instead. Tolkien was so disheartened that he never wrote another story for years.

The reason for Tolkien’s mistake, since you ask, is that 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. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can’t exist.

More here.


  1. Whitewall says

    Child, where did your dog go? Mama, he ran back up under the front porch!

    Posted September 5, 2016 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  2. Interesting and useful reference. Thanx.

    Posted September 5, 2016 at 8:49 pm | Permalink
  3. Kevin Kim says

    I saw this article making the rounds. Most intellesting.

    The French seem to have known about this implicit word order for years: years ago, I glimpsed a sample copy of an English-related problem on a baccalauréat exam, and one question I saw related to stacked adjectives in English: the student had to arrange the adjectives in the correct order as well as justify why that order was used.

    Posted September 5, 2016 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

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