The Odd Grammar Rule Most English Speakers Know But Are Rarely Taught
The English language is full of all sorts of quirks that can be infuriating to non-native speakers. (Imagine learning as an adult that cough, enough, and though all make different sounds.) To those of us who speak English as our first tongue, these nonsensical grammar conventions come as second nature. Some rules are so innate that they rarely get taught in school.
Take this example recently spotted by Quartz:
Things native English speakers know, but don't know we know: pic.twitter.com/Ex0Ui9oBSL
— Matthew Anderson (@MattAndersonNYT) September 3, 2016
This passage tweeted by BBC editor Matthew Anderson comes from the book The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase. It outlines the rules of adjective order when preceding a noun. According to the text, the order goes "opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun" and any change made to that organization will make you "sound like a maniac." For instance, "big black dog" is a perfectly acceptable phrase, but saying "black big dog" just sounds awkward.
At least that’s the case for native English speakers—people learning English as a second language are tasked with committing that seemingly arbitrary sequence to memory. If they don’t, they risk getting confused stares when asking for "the green lovely rectangular French old silver whittling little knife."