July 10, 2017
Here’s something I’ve often wondered about: Why do English speakers innately grasp the natural placement of adjectives in sentences? For instance, why do we always describe a “creepy little old man” instead of an “old creepy little man” – or even an “old little creepy man” – in that precise order? And why is it some strings of adjectives get separated by commas while others don’t… like a “hideous, barbaric monster” or an “unkempt, disheveled urchin”?
These are the things that keep me awake nights… when I’m not being awakened by our left-side next-door neighbor’s rooster going off at odd hours or the right-side next-door neighbor’s yappy dogs.
Oddly enough, there’s an actual reason for this – the adjective order and the commas, not the stuff that wakes me up at night. It’s because of something called the “Royal Order of Adjectives” (not to be confused with the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo, for those of us old enough to remember watching The Flintstones). The Royal Order of Adjectives is a set of specific guidelines by which English-language sentences are structured, regarding the placement of adjectives.
Nine descriptors comprise this Royal Order. They are: determiners; observations/opinions; size; shape; age; color; origin; material; and type. Because observation/opinion precedes size, which precedes color, we’d say “creepy little old man” instead of any other configuration. And because they fall into different descriptor categories (cumulative as opposed to coordinate adjectives), they require no comma.
Conversely, strings of adjectives within the same descriptor category do get separated by commas, because they are of equal weight (for lack of a better way to describe this).
Let’s explore those nine descriptors.
- Determiners – these specify the item being described (e.g., that, my, their)
- Observations/opinions – subjective descriptions (e.g., crumbling, hairy, disheveled)
- Size (e.g., medium, microscopic, gargantuan)
- Shape – physical dimensions (e.g., round, rhombic, star-shaped)
- Age (e.g., Art Nouveau, antique, seven-year-old)
- Color (e.g., blonde, crimson, cerulean)
- Origin – the item’s place of origin (e.g., Chinese, American, Tibetan)
- Material – what the item is made of (e.g., cotton, iron, maple)
- Qualifier – this refers to specific properties or type, and may be considered part of the name of the item being described (e.g., boudoir lamp, cellular phone, electric guitar)
Go ahead and use any number of descriptors in your writing – just be sure to put them in the proper order. You could describe “her clingy blue skirt”; “his rusted, clunky [note: You’d use a comma here because both adjectives are observation/opinion descriptors] oblong red wagon” or even “my sleek antique black European spruce grand piano.”
And now that I’m fairly certain I won’t be kept awake wondering about adjective placement, I might just get a good night’s sleep tonight. What more could I ask for?
March 7, 2016
Aside from its obvious email application, how many of us have ever really considered the “at” symbol – @? It’s been around for centuries, yet it was largely ignored by all but those in the math or accounting arenas much of that time. For years, this unassuming character languished above the 2 on our typewriter keyboards, snubbed by virtually all except folks who included it in their grawlixes.
With the advent of electronic communication surfaced the ingenuity of one Ray Tomlinson, an American computer engineer (who, incidentally, passed away over the weekend at the age of 74). In 1971, Tomlinson drew the humble @ into the spotlight as a central figure of his recently developed “electronic mail” system.
Of course, you can also use the @ symbol to send electronic roses to your sweetheart… —-^–^-<@ – but you’ll have to kind of squint and look sideways to make it look like a long-stemmed rose with thorns.
As for what the ubiquitous @ is called in other languages, check out this article. Personally, I prefer the Armenian ishnik and the Danish snabela. What about you? What’s your favorite other-language moniker for @?
May 5, 2011
This Saturday, May 7, I’ll be speaking at the eighth annual Connecticut Authors & Publishers Association professional-development day for writers. CAPA-U (short for CAPA University) will be at the Hartford Steam Boiler Conference Center, One State Street, Hartford, CT.
I’ll be part of a panel discussing what to expect when working with an editor, and how to get the most from the author-editor relationship. We’ll likely touch on word choice, style, punctuation, spelling, grammar… perhaps even the funny side of the editing process – and, of course, we’ll set aside time to answer your questions.
Your admission gets you the day-long conference, complete with a choice of fifteen different workshops, keynote address, agents’ panel and a one-on-one meeting with a literary agent to discuss your work. A delicious buffet lunch is included… as is secured, indoor parking on site. It’s an amazing opportunity to meet and talk with other authors, hear some informational and inspiring speakers – and possibly win a refund of your registration fee. Not a writer but know someone who is? A ticket to CAPA-U makes a great Mother’s Day present!
There’s still time to sign up for CAPA-U… but don’t delay; registrations are filling up fast! Hope to see you there!
May 7, 2009
This Sunday is Mother’s Day. That’s right. Not Mothers’ Day. Not Mothers Day. And certainly not mothers day. Mother-apostrophe-ess: Mother’s Day.
A number of folks have asked me via email, “How do I know when to capitalize Mother (or Mom) and when to leave it lowercase?”
Great question. Here’s the quick-and-dirty answer:
If you were writing, for instance, “I went to visit my mother; we played canasta,” the lowercase form of “mother” would be appropriate. However, if you were to write, “I went to visit Mother; we played canasta,” you would capitalize “Mother,” because that is the name you call her.
Have other questions? Just leave a comment.
Oh, and whether you’re currently overrun with young’uns or your kids are grown and gone – or even if you’re someone’s godmother or favorite auntie, Happy Mother’s Day to you!
And, if you happen to be among the women for whom motherhood was cut short, this is your Mother’s Day, too. Take time to honor yourself and your departed child(ren) this Sunday. Remember to be gentle with yourself… and, above all, know there will be better a Mother’s Day for you in time.
May 2, 2009
Next Saturday (May 9, 2009), I’ll be taking part in an editors’ panel at CAPA University, a day-long professional-development day for writers; I’ll be part of a three-member panel of experts. This sixth annual event is sponsored by the Connecticut Authors & Publishers Association.
Some of the topics we’re sure to discuss will be word usage, spelling, grammar, punctuation, general editing and proofreading.
What are your thorniest proofreading/editing concerns? If you were to attend this panel discussion, what burning question would you most like answered or addressed?
April 12, 2009
Question: Which sentence is correct?
“There putting they’re stuff over their.”
– or –
“They’re putting their stuff over there.”
Answer: The second one is correct.
I was going to put “Obviously” at the front of that sentence, but it’s all too clear that the answer isn’t obvious.
It seems so simple, yet it’s an issue that continually plagues everyone from middle-school students to business executives. Let’s tackle this one with a few simple examples.
Basically, if you’re attempting to replace the words “they are,” you’d use “they’re,” which is a contraction of those two words.
If you’re giving directions, that one’s easy. Just think of it this way: “I just have to put a “t” on the beginning of ‘here’ to get to ‘there.'”
And “their” is a possessive pronoun. So “their stuff” means “the stuff that belongs to them.”
With that in mind, our second sentence could be reworded thus: “They are putting the stuff that belongs to them not here, but in that place.” Or something like that.
What are your spelling bugaboos? Have you got a word you chronically misspell? Talk to us… maybe we can help you come up with a simple solution to remember the correct spelling.
April 1, 2009
I’m giving up.
I’m threw with this.
They’re doesn’t seem two be any point, too going on. People dont change there spelling, speeking and punctuation just because some crazy woman harps incessantly about it. I wish I would of considered that before I wasted my thyme; putting up this sight. Their are to many other things I could of focused my energies on.
Im going two look into being an an elevator operator… but I’ve herd even that has it’s ups and downs.
Good buy crewel whirled.