Thursday 28 February 2019

A Right Royal Order

We Brits know how to do pomp and ceremony, and among our great catalogue of Royal Events, there are the occasions when Her Majesty celebrates the Order of the Garter, and the Order of the Bath.
But did you know that there is such a thing as The Royal Order of Adjectives?
Victoria Coren Mitchell made mention of it on Only Connect this week. Bob and I hadn't heard of it, although it seems we sort of knew about it, and I had a vague memory of an English lesson back in the 1960s...
It seems that it is something that we instinctively learn as we grow up speaking English, and it is the correct order in which to place our adjectives.
For instance, if I was describing the bottle in front of me, I would say it is a small blue glass mineral water bottle.
I would not say it is a glass mineral blue water small bottle
The same adjectives, but they just don't sound right when describing this item [a souvenir of my holiday in Florence with Steph 17 years ago, which stands on the bathroom shelf, still sparking joy]
The order in which you put adjectives before a final noun has significance. The Royal Order depends on nine categories of adjectives, and here they are.
Determiner - that's articles [a, the, an] possessives [my, your, his etc] number [ten, some, several...] and demonstratives [this, that, those, these]
Observation/Opinion - cold, ugly, heroic, retired, enthusiastic, soft, priceles...
Size- huge, minuscule, massive, petite
Shape - square, circular, trapezoidal
Age - old, young, ancient
Colour - green, blue, pink
Material - wooden, velvet, steel
Qualifier  - a noun used as an adjective to identify the type of noun. hound dog, evening gown, Baptist minister, or an adjective ending in -ing like walking stick, frying pan etc.
In the car returning from Norfolk, we were trying out this rule, to see how it sounded with different well known adjectival phrases
Little Red Riding Hood
The Jolly Green Giant
Great grey-green greasy Limpopo
Long winding road
The thinking man's crumpet
A tall dark stranger
Cheap tin trays
Silly Old Mrs Pepperpot
A beautiful pea-green boat
Bob kept on about a Tall blonde Swedish Assassin. I think he has been watching too much EuroCrime on TV.
There is a very helpful article about it all here
But did you learn this rule at school? 
And why is it that we instinctively know if the order is wrong?
PS Happy Birthday today to Gary, who is my generous young son-in-law


  1. I'd never heard of that rule before and I an fascinated by grammar so would have remembered. I agree that the wrong order of adjectives feels instinctive and one notices if a wrong order is used. Thanks for that one!

  2. Ang, I think you intended a link at "There is a very helpful article about it here" but I could not find a link.

    1. Thank you FC. I have added the inconveniently missing link now.

  3. Well, Gary and I appear to be birthday twins as it is my birthday today also! I had a nice present in the form of the train driver who waited for me to cycle up the slopes so I made my train!
    Yes, I don't remember being taught the order for adjectives but I do instinctively know them though I do remember a grammar book from year 5 teaching that told some of the orders. Though I thought we should use commas between them as they form a sort of list, e.g. I walked into the tiny, dark, music room and spied some rowdy, young, year 5 children abusing the beautiful, old piano. Now I'm wondering!

  4. I didn't know that there was a rule about the order of adjectives! Interesting!

  5. ..and when you start translating into another language...?!

  6. I knew the order existed, but - of course - have never learned it. It's just one of those things that you pick up instinctively. I remember my first weeks training as a TEFL teacher - I had no idea what the present perfect was, nor how we used it - but I used it (and still do, of course!) all the time!


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