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Be a Better Writer--ADJECTIVES in the proper order

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--ADJECTIVES in the proper order

Postby glorybee » Sun Aug 17, 2014 9:12 am

I’m teaching myself Spanish, using an online course. The advantages of learning online: it’s free, and I can work at my own pace and my own convenience. The disadvantages: I don’t get to actually speak Spanish with someone who knows the language, so I’ve gotten to be much better at reading and writing it than actually speaking it.

Stick with me, I’m getting to a point that has plenty to do with this week’s lesson.

Native Spanish speakers don’t have to be taught when “hacer” means “to make” and when it means “to do,” or when to use “para” instead of “por.” They learn those things instinctually, when they’re learning the language. That’s how they know that in Spanish, an adjective usually follows a noun—but sometimes it comes first. I don’t have those instincts, and it trips me up, every time.

It’s the same thing with English. When we’re learning language, we learn syntax as well as vocabulary—so we know the order of words that makes sense. That’s why Yoda is so amusing to us: when he says, “Powerful you have become, the dark side I sense in you,” we mentally switch his words to the “proper” order.

Getting closer to the lesson now. Here it comes:

One bit of syntax that comes naturally to native English speakers is the order of adjectives. For example, let’s say that I want to write a sentence describing a dog. That dog has these attributes—

old
guard
white
big

I’ll give you an exercise to do first—Fill in the blanks of this sentence about the dog, putting the adjectives in the order that sounds best to you.

I have a(n) __________ __________ __________ __________ dog.

I’ll give you the right answer later in the lesson. I’ll bet that most of you put them in the same order—that instinctual order that native English speakers learn, but that is rarely taught.

However, I’ve noticed recently in some of my editing jobs and in reading Writing Challenge and Critique Circle entries that some writers get the order wrong. It’s not a grammatical error, really, just a kind of language tone deafness that will seem “off” to your readers.

There’s a remedy for that, and it’s called “the royal order of adjectives.” Here’s a chart that shows what I mean:

Image

If you google “royal order of adjectives,” you’ll see this same chart on several websites.
Using the chart, let’s go back to that fascinating sentence about a dog. You can see that the correct order is size, age, color, qualifier. So the sentence should read:

I have a big old white guard dog.

I think just about everybody would put “guard” right next to “dog”—but this sentence, which puts the other adjectives in a different order, should seem “off” to you:

I have a white old big guard dog.

The difference is more obvious when only two adjectives are used. Which of these sounds best to you?

I have a white big dog.
I have a big white dog.


I hope you picked the second sentence.

Important to note:

• Obviously, you wouldn’t use every kind of adjective in describing any one thing. If you’re using the chart to determine what order the adjectives should be in, just skip over the categories you’re not using.
• In most cases, three or four adjectives are too many. One, perhaps two, should be enough.
• Some people use “opinion” instead of “observation.” I think this is helpful because it introduces another ordering issue that’s not on the chart: general opinions come before specific opinions. So it would be “a great [general opinion], tasty [specific opinion] sandwich,” not “a tasty [specific opinion], great [general opinion] sandwich.”
• This chart is not engraved in stone. It’s a good guideline, though.
• All of these rules will have exceptions. The writer’s voice, your characters’ quirks, personal preference—all of these might require you to write your adjectives in some other order. It’s a good guideline, though.

And since I know (with a sigh) that commas are going to show up, here’s how you determine if a comma goes in a pair of adjectives:

If you could use “and” between them, use a comma.

I want a sweet, gooey brownie.


If they’d be in the same column in the chart, use a comma.

Her blind date appeared at the door wearing a cheap, ugly suit.

If (despite the chart, which is not perfect) the adjectives seem to have equal weight and to be quite interchangeable, use a comma.

My husband is a wonderful, goofy man.

Otherwise, don’t.

I took my old pink bicycle out of the garage.
What a precious little baby you have!


And if you have more than two adjectives describing something, don’t put a comma between the final adjective and the noun.

The princess knocked on the door; a hunchbacked, grumpy, redheaded troll opened it.

Here’s a website that covers this material with more details, and some grammatical explanations for correct comma placement with pairs of adjectives.

(Thanks to Steve Fitschen for helping me to make sure this lesson is accurate. All questions should be directed to him.) :D

HOMEWORK: Write a few sentences that contain two or three adjectives, in the correct order and with correct punctuation. Try a few that call for commas and a few that don’t.

Ask a question or make a comment about this lesson.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SOME THINGS ABOUT ADJECTIVES

Postby swfdoc1 » Sun Aug 17, 2014 1:02 pm

glorybee wrote:
(Thanks to Steve Fitschen for helping me to make sure this lesson is accurate. All questions should be directed to him.) :D


Gee, thanks! :shock:

Y'all better direct them to Jan--at least until after Mon. midnight. I'm on deadline and may not even get to sleep tonight.
Steve
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SOME THINGS ABOUT ADJECTIVES

Postby RedBaron » Sun Aug 17, 2014 7:22 pm

That's really cool! I never knew that!
<><
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SOME THINGS ABOUT ADJECTIVES

Postby glorybee » Mon Aug 18, 2014 4:37 pm

Just bumping this up a bit--surprised at the small number of responses. No questions, comments?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SOME THINGS ABOUT ADJECTIVES

Postby amilli » Mon Aug 18, 2014 7:48 pm

Hi Jan, It's great to be back....even if for a little while.

This assignment is hard!!! :oops: probably that's why there isn't a lot of responses...

I'll give it a try though since I love a challenge.

1) I totally love tall, hot guys!

2) There is a frilly tiny purple sweater buried deep in the back of my closet.

3) Televisions can be a fun, interesting, addictive treat. (My commas might be off here)

PS: This lesson is an eye-opener :shock: . I didn't know this much technicality and protocol was involved in using some descriptive words. I just figure, put them down and make them sound good enough to ignite a great image in the reader's imagination.
Amelia

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SOME THINGS ABOUT ADJECTIVES

Postby trudynewell » Tue Aug 19, 2014 5:36 am

Jan,
This was fascinating! A totally new insight. I loved the chart. Thanks. Trudy

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SOME THINGS ABOUT ADJECTIVES

Postby violin4jesus » Tue Aug 19, 2014 8:18 am

I like the chart, too. I tend to err on the side of fewer commas so as not to interrupt the flow of my writing. Just personal preference, though.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SOME THINGS ABOUT ADJECTIVES

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Fri Aug 22, 2014 7:16 pm

Yes, this assignment is hard. :?

Here's my attempt. Below each sentence, I listed the royal order and gave my reasons for using or not using commas.

1) She has beautiful, large green eyes.
Royal Order: Observation Size Color

Comma Reasons:
“And” could be used to separate “beautiful” and “large.” Therefore, these adjectives should be separated by a comma.
“Green” is more integral to “eyes”, and therefore should not be separated from “large” by a comma.



2) She served delicious, little pink-frosted cupcakes.
Royal Order: Observation Size Color

Comma Reasons:
“And” could be used to separate “delicious” and “little”. Therefore, these adjectives should be separated by a comma.
“Pink-frosted” is more integral to “cupcakes”, and therefore should not be separated from “little” by a comma.



3) She encountered a handsome, young Scottish golfer.
Royal Order: Observation Age Origin

Comma Reasons:
"And" could be used to separate "handsome" and "young." Therefore, these adjectives should be separated by a comma.
“Scottish” is more integral to “golfer”, and therefore should not be separated from “young” by a comma.

Cinnamon Bear

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ADJECTIVES in the proper order

Postby MommaClaire » Wed Dec 16, 2015 12:11 pm

The Royal Order of Adjectives? I'm sixty-three years old and it is exciting to learn something new--well, new to me! I guess there are rules for everything but this one has eluded me in the few years that I've been writing. Thanks for the enlightenment. SACQ.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ADJECTIVES in the proper order

Postby oursilverstrands » Wed Jan 13, 2016 6:06 pm

Jan wrote:If (despite the chart, which is not perfect) the adjectives seem to have equal weight and to be quite interchangeable, use a comma.


Jan, I revisited this today after considering the following: tall, young man

I think the comma is warranted, but I'm still not sure as per your rule. Reassure me. :D

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I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ADJECTIVES in the proper order

Postby glorybee » Wed Jan 13, 2016 6:16 pm

In my opinion, those adjectives don't seem interchangeable. I'd omit the comma. Writing

The young tall man grinned at me

...seems a bit 'off,' while

The tall young man grinned at me

...seems fine and natural.

However, this is an area in which another person might easily disagree, and neither of us would be horribly wrong.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ADJECTIVES in the proper order

Postby oursilverstrands » Wed Jan 13, 2016 6:28 pm

Oh, it just hit me as to what you meant by "interchangeable." Duh! Only to thick heads like me does "reversible" make more sense. But that's my problem. I need a "for instance" more often than most. :lol:

Thanks

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ADJECTIVES in the proper order

Postby oursilverstrands » Wed Jan 13, 2016 6:43 pm

Sorry, you did give examples. :bow Don't ask me how I missed them!!

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ADJECTIVES in the proper order

Postby Caleb Cheong » Sun Feb 14, 2016 12:47 pm

Hi Jan!


Are these sentences fine?


1 I never like a dull, dark, and soundless day.

2 These errors stand out like huge, red, blinking lights.

3 Jack's voice thick and sloppy because his mouth was full of food.


I find it interesting that some adjectives have a different order. For example,


During the music festival, there will be guitars galore and flutes aplenty.




:thankssign
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ADJECTIVES in the proper order

Postby glorybee » Sun Feb 14, 2016 8:38 pm

Your sentences are fine, Caleb.
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