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The strange English grammar rule we were never taught, but all subconsciously know



The English language is funny, isn’t it?

Not ha-ha funny – though it is that too – but bizarre funny.

Anyone who speaks a language natively will treat its idiosyncrasies like they’re second-nature.

A lot of the time, you won’t question why ‘trough’, ‘though’ and ‘through’ all use different pronunciations of the ‘-ough’ part of the word – that’s just how it is.

But there’s one even bigger rule you use so often that you probably didn’t even realise it was a rule at all.


If you’ve got a coat that’s both green and big, do you call it your big green coat or your green big coat?

‘Big green coat’, right? Saying it the other way round sounds totally wrong. OK, another one. Young French singer or French young singer. It’s the first one again.

Right, last one: glass round bottle or round glass bottle. It’s the latter, of course, and it’s all down to the English language’s adjectives rule. Which you used automatically without knowing it existed.

As the New York Times’ Matthew Anderson reveals above, the rule concerns the order in which multiple adjectives are placed before a noun.

We might get taught that the adjective comes before the noun as a rule – and this is not a given in other languages – but the order is not something most of us will have ever really considered.

The order goes opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose-noun.

Time to start writing about the brilliant big old rectangular purple Dutch leather driving hat. Not that you would ever have any reason to.

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