Monday, March 20, 2017

Adjective order...

Adjective order...  Several times this past few years I've run across a discussion of this topic, but I don't remember doing so before that (though it's possible I've simply forgotten this).  I may have posted about it before, too.  Anyway, it's fascinating that we all subconsciously put multiple adjectives (or adjectival nouns) modifying a single noun into a particular order – and any other order just sounds wrong.  Consider this phrase that “sounds right” when I say it out loud:
  • small shiny steel ball
Does that sound right to you?  It does to me.  But there are five other orders we could have put those adjectives, and they all just “sound wrong” – even though by normal grammar rules they're all perfectly ok:
  • shiny small steel ball
  • shiny steel small ball
  • steel shiny small ball
  • steel small shiny ball
  • small steel shiny ball
The first one of these sounds less wrong than the others, at least to me.  The last four, though, grate on my sense of grammatical propriety.  There are some rules for this, not widely known.  I don't recall a teacher ever mentioning these rules – they're just something we all seem to “know”.  Can you recall ever hearing someone use adjectives in an order that seemed wrong?  I can't.

Things like this reinforce my understanding of just how complicated people are.  And how far artificial intelligence has to go to even come close to what we do – without even knowing it!

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