I was searching for something or other the other day and I stumbled across this article on Quora, an answer to a question about what is the most difficult grammar rule applying to commonly used words in the English language. And the top answer was about a grammar rule I’d never heard of. Me, the English student, composition teacher, professor, and language geek.
Order of adjectives.
That is, if someone were to say “the red, big ball,” you know that it sounds wrong (“the big, red ball” sounds much more correct), but it’s hard to explain why. When trying to teach non-English speakers what order to place adjectives, it seems very arbitrary. It turns out that there are rules that govern this. Basically, adjectives should be categorized and then arranged in the following order: Quantity, Opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Color, Origin, Material, Purpose.
So, in the example above, “red” is a color adjective and “big” is a size adjective, so “big” must be placed before “red” in the example above. When trying to think about how to apply this rule, you have to remember a seemingly arbitrary order and then classify your adjectives before you speak, which is a slow process. This one generally has to be learned through repetition by hearing examples over and over until it becomes instinctive.
I think it is really cool how we all seem to instinctively know this really complicated rule and apply it by gut feeling, this hierarchy of eight categories. And this is yet another reason why English is so very difficult for non-native speakers.
So there you have it: geeky post for the day.