Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Standard order for adjectives

Interesting tidbit on a rule of English that I had never noticed...


Wendalyn Nichols, editor of Copy Editor, responded, "There is indeed a standard order for adjectives, and you'll find it described in dictionaries and textbooks for learners of English as a second language."

Ms. Nichols reproduced a version of a chart showing a hierarchy of modifiers: determiner, quality, size, age, color, origin, material. She gives some examples: a colorful new silk scarf; that silver Japanese car. I've just been looking over a couple of other such charts, and I find that the hierarchy they list goes like this:

Opinion :: size :: age :: shape :: color :: origin :: material :: purpose.

Not all noun phrases have adjectives from each of these columns. But this is the order they should be in. Thus "little old lady" or "angry young man" are set phrases in the language that illustrate the idiomatic order. "Little" (size) comes before "old" (age). And "angry" is an example of what the charts call an opinion adjective – one of the modifiers that seem less essential than those referring to age or origin, for instance.

No comments: