In a recent comment, CaitieCat said something that really surprised me. She pointed out that in English, whenever a noun is prefaced by multiple adjectives, those adjectives follow a specific order. We all instinctively use that order though, as far as I can tell, no one is ever actually taught to do so but pick it up as they learn language.
For example, we would say “the big red ball”, and not “the red big ball”. Clearly there is some classifying of categories going on as well as some rule of precedence. She later gave a link to an article that explained the ordering rule.
- Determiners — articles, adverbs, and other limiters.
- Observation — postdeterminers and limiter adjectives (e.g., a real hero, a perfect idiot) and adjectives subject to subjective measure (e.g., beautiful, interesting), or objects with a value (e.g., best, cheapest, costly)
- Size and Shape — adjectives subject to objective measure (e.g., wealthy, large, round), and physical properties such as speed.
- Age — adjectives denoting age (e.g., young, old, new, ancient, six-year-old).
- Color — adjectives denoting color (e.g., red, black, pale).
- Origin — denominal adjectives denoting source of noun (e.g., French, American, Canadian).
- Material — denominal adjectives denoting what something is made of (e.g., woolen, metallic, wooden).
- Qualifier — final limiter, often regarded as part of the noun (e.g., rocking chair, hunting cabin, passenger car, book cover).
So, in English, adjectives pertaining to size precede adjectives pertaining to age (“little old”, not “old little”), which in turn generally precede adjectives pertaining to color (“old white”, not “white old”). So, we would say “One (quantity) nice (opinion) little (size) round (shape) old (age) white (color) brick (material) house.”
Are those rules only for English? Are they restricted to the Indo-Aryan group? Or are they universal?
This is where speakers of other languages come in. How would you say “the big red ball” and “the big red shiny ball”? Is there a fixed order too? And is it the same order as in English?
I had never thought about this before.