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Cumulative Adjectives.
You've probably never heard of them (I hadn't) but use them and subject yourself to their grammatical laws daily.
See, when we use a combination of adjectives to describe something they have to be assembled in a strict order. And that order is
Quantity. Opinion. Size/Measurement. Age.
Length/Shape. Colour. Origin. Material. Purpose.
And if you don't follow that rule you end up with nonsense.
But don't fret yourself - you do this automatically and without thinking about it.
Consider the sentence
I bought three (quantity) tasty (opinion) Cornish (origin) pasties.
We keep the old (age) wooden (material) rocking (purpose) chair in the shed.
If you don't believe me try re-ordering them. You get
I bought tasty Cornish three pasties.
We keep the rocking old wooden chair....

Now EFL students need to learn this sequence but you are more fortunate; you have assimilated this knowledge through usage.
You know it but never knew you knew it.
Sun, 18 Sep 2022 04:07 pm
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david mitchell

Wow, thanks for bringing up the concept of cumulative adjectives! It's true that most people aren't consciously aware of the specific order in which adjectives should be arranged. We learn it through exposure and usage without even realizing it. It's fascinating how language operates in such intricate ways.

Your examples perfectly illustrate the importance of following the order of cumulative adjectives. They show how rearranging the sequence can lead to confusing or even nonsensical sentences. It's impressive how our brains automatically arrange these adjectives correctly without much effort.

As you mentioned, English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students often struggle with learning this precise order. They have to actively study and memorize it. However, native English speakers like us benefit from our natural language acquisition process, which allows us to grasp and use this knowledge intuitively.

Who would have thought that something as mundane as describing objects or people with multiple adjectives could involve such a complex grammar rule? It just goes to show how intricate and fascinating language can be. Thanks for shedding light on this topic and helping us appreciate the intricacies of our own linguistic abilities!
Sat, 9 Sep 2023 11:56 am
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Funnily enough I was thinking about this the other day and as you say the order is embedded in our minds and you instinctively or intuitively know what adjectives should precede others. When the order is re-arranged it just seems strange or ridiculous eg:
"Raising its head the brown, hungry, hairy, big bear roared aloud"
12 days ago
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awesome, thanks for this!
4 days ago
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