English is the lingua franca of the world, but how the language and its seemingly endless, contradictory list of grammar rules came to dominate tongues the world over, one can only guess.
One fine example from this mind-boggling list of rules is that adjectives, “absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun”, according to Mark Forsyth, author of the book The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase.
Things native English speakers know, but don’t know we know: pic.twitter.com/Ex0Ui9oBSL
— Matthew Anderson (@MattAndersonNYT) September 3, 2016
Under what’s known as the prenominal adjective order (AO), this means knives have to be described as “lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife,” but call it a “silver French green” or “green rectangular old” knife and you’ll be committing a “hyperbaton”.
A hyperbaton is what happens when you string words in an odd order in English and where you sound, as Forsyth describes, “like a maniac”.
International students should take refuge in the fact that even the great English author JRR Tolkien – author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy – flouted this rule as a wee seven-year-old writing his first story.
He had written a tale about a “green great dragon” to which his mother said he couldn’t absolutely have a “green great dragon” and that it had to be a “great green dragon” instead.
Also, until today, native English speakers are most likely to not know the existence of such a list though many probably use it without being able to write it out.
You should, however, try your best to keep to this order as much as possible. But as it’s always the case with English, grammar rules are meant to be broken (Think “big bad wolf” (size-opinion) is right and “bad big wolf” (opinion-size) isn’t).