The Secret Rules of Adjective Order

This post by Katy Waldman originally appeared on Slate on 8/6/14.

It is a lovely warm August day outside, and I am wearing a green loose top. Does the second part of that sentence sound strange to you? Perhaps you think I should have written “loose green top.” You’re not wrong (though not entirely right, because descriptivist linguistics): An intuitive code governs the way English speakers order adjectives. The rules come so naturally to us that we rarely learn about them in school, but over the past few decades language nerds have been monitoring modifiers, grouping them into categories, and straining to find logic in how people instinctively rank those categories.

If you’re someone whose reflexes scatter the moment you try to lift the veil on your unconscious, this fascinating little-known field (little-known fascinating field?) will drive you nuts. On the other hand, thinking about how adjectives work may bounce you to an epistemological Zen state, wherein you can contemplate amid flutes what it means to partake of Redness and whether former child actress means something different from child former actress. Adjectives are where the elves of language both cheat and illumine reality.

Maybe I am overqualifying this article about qualifiers (or is that the point?).

 

Click here to read the full post on Slate.

 

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