By Published On: October 4, 2016

Earlier this month, BBC Culture’s editor Matthew Anderson (@MattAndersonBBC) tweeted a few lines from the book, The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth. The tweet said:

“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.”

People were so totally fascinated by this unwritten “rule” of the English language that the simple, innocuous tweet took the internet by storm—getting over 51,000 retweets and 74,000 likes. Who knew people could get so excited about the English language? And is this “rule” actually legit? Is there really an order to the adjectives we use that makes sense—one that if broken sends sentences plummeting to their inevitable demise?

Apparently so. When you start testing the theory, it does, pretty much, hold up. Turns out, we’re used to hearing descriptions a certain way, and while there’s no official rule about the order in which adjectives must be used, our sentences just don’t sound right when descriptors are used indiscriminately. There seems to be a right way and a wrong way. “Cute little red convertible” sounds awkward if it’s written as “little cute red convertible,” or “red cute little convertible.”

Test out the rule for yourself. Does it hold up? Come across any exceptions? We’d love to know what you think.

About the Author: cat-tonic

Born of curiosity and enthusiasm, we’re a scrappy group of smart, passionate marketers who work hard and play hard. We show up every day and fight for our clients who are making the world a better place. We listen with curiosity, explore deeply, ask hard questions, and sometimes put forth ideas that might make you squirm. Because we believe the status quo is good for growing mold but not much else. The way we see it, change is the way forward and the magic happens when curiosity, math, science, instinct, and talent intersect.
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