The Internet Is Obsessed With This Incredibly Complex Language Rule No One Knows They Know

complicated english rule
Twitter / @MattAndersonBBC

Over the weekend, Matt Anderson, an editor at BBC Culture, shared a passage from a book on crafting beautifully written phrases in English. Generally, this would be of interest to just a handful of writers and word nerds of various cloaks. However, this tidbit has managed to spread across the internet like Cersei's wildfire through a church. 

The passage concerns the usage of adjectives in the English language. It highlights something everyone knows, but almost no one knows they know. There is actually a quite complex ordering system governing the use of adjectives, and while very few people can write down the order adjectives go in, almost every English-language speaker gets it right every time.

Here's a transcription of that excerpt that may be a little easier to read: "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. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can't exist."

It's weirdly true. Almost everyone knows this list and you do absolutely sound like a maniac if you mess with that list. You don't have old nasty green round dinner plates. It's hard to even know what that looks like when you hear it at first.

Anderson later shared that the excerpt came from The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth, which was picked up by some others who found some wonderful tidbits in there as well. 

Now you've got a nice little spot of internet information to share at a party that will make you sound incredibly smart, even if everyone in earshot doesn't know they know this already.

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Dustin Nelson is a News Writer with Thrillist. He holds a Guinness World Record, but has never met the fingernail lady. He’s written for Sports Illustrated, Men’s Journal, The Rumpus, and other digital wonderlands. Follow him @dlukenelson.