Tuesday, May 21, 2013

SYNTACTICAL GALLANTRY

Speakers of other languages are often surprised to find that, in English, it is possible to string several adjectives together in one sentence and that there is an accepted order for these adjectives, according to their meaning.  We say, for example, "a nice young man" rather than "a young nice man".  The native speaker usually uses the correct order automatically and does not have to think about it but the English learner needs some rules to hold on to, so is taught that the "opinion" adjective comes first, then the "size" one, then the "age" adjective, then "shape", "colour",  "nationality", "material" and "purpose" ["a nice, big, new, rectangular, brown, British, wooden dining table"].

We were practising such combinations today in class and, towards the end of the lesson I asked students to use three adjectives together in a sentence describing a person and another three in a sentence describing an object.  One student wrote,

"My English teacher is a beautiful, middle-aged, Welsh woman."

Besides admiring his good judgement in his choice of "opinion" adjective, I could have hugged him for having the gallantry to leave "size" out of it and for not writing "old". What's more, he even remembered that I am Welsh! Could this mean that I am getting somewhere in my campaign to convince Sicilians that "Inghilterra" is not Britain and that Britain is not England? No.... that would be too optimistic!

Weren't these the days?
Image:  WP Clipart

5 comments:

annechung said...

Bravo, you taught him well.

Winchester whisperer said...

I doubt there are many English Welsh teachers

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Anne. There must be some Patagonian ones, though, WW!

Liz said...

I was reading something about this order recently, pat. It's not something I remember learning but I think, on the whole, if it sounds right it probably is!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Liz. Yes, we do it instinctively.

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