Why does the order of adjectives matter?

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Even though saying “the big brown brick wall” means the same as saying “the brick brown big wall”, the second feels so very wrong.

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22 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s just how each language has its own nuances. In Spanish, the adjectives come after the nouns.

A long time ago, someone decided to do it that way. Everyone else agreed that was pretty good and they kept doing it. That’s how language works.

Me and Joe went to the park means basically the same as Joe and I went to the park, but only one is correct.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Adjective order matters in the same way that all other grammar rules matter. It’s what we expect. And when those expectations are broken we tend to get scared and confused because it takes more work for our brain to interpret what we are hearing or what we are reading.

Adjective order is a pretty unique one though, most other grammar rules are broken pretty often in really informal settings. But something about adjective order makes us really not want to break that rule. At least in English, other languages might have much less strict adjective order rules.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It often doesn’t, but people who don’t say adjectives in the common English order basically reveal themselves to not be native English speakers

Anonymous 0 Comments

In case anyone wants to learn more about the “correct” adjective order (which most native English speakers use reflexively), [this Grammarly write up ](https://www.grammarly.com/blog/adjective-order/)explains it pretty clearly

Anonymous 0 Comments

It feels wrong because it *doesn’t* mean the same thing. Even though we aren’t taught the adjective order, and there’s even some debate over exactly what that order is, there still remains an implied difference in how the adjectives are being applied to the word.

One commonly cited order of adjectives is “Determiner, Opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Color, Origin, Material, and Purpose.” Since size usually comes before color, big seems out of place in your second phrasing, since it is not an origin, material, or purpose. There’s also more ambiguity in your second example, since “brick” could be describing the shade of brown, instead of the material of the wall.

In other discussion of adjective order I’ve seen people use a “great green dragon” and a “green great dragon” used as example of how adjective order matters. In a fantasy world the first would be a large sized member of the green dragon species/breed, while the latter would be a green colored member of the great dragon species.

Anonymous 0 Comments

In English adjectives follow the order of:

Opinion

Size

Age

Shape

Color

Place of origin

Material

Purpose

“The big(size) brown(color) brick(material) wall”

To expand this and use all of them you have:

“The ugly big old crooked brown french brick dividing wall”

Changing the order of theses adjectives makes it feel “wrong” because after years of hearing adjectives in this order you have internalized it, even if you are not consciously aware of the order.

~~This rule of grammar is called Ablaut Reduplication.~~

EDIT: I goofed it is not called this. It may not have a name.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I think it might have something to do with what is described. Using your example, I read the first as a big wall, that is the colour brown, made of brick. The second one, I read a big wall, of brick brown colour (brick describing the colour)
They provide different info- on the second sentence, I lost the info that the wall is actually made of brick.

Anonymous 0 Comments

“the brick brown big wall” would have a different meaning.

It makes it sound like “brick brown” is a type of colour.

And then “big wall” is sounds like something different than just a “wall”, it’s its own noun.

The strict order you would normally put these words actually allows us to have more flexibility in the words you use. For example, having a colour called “brick brown” is made possible. If we allowed any random order to describe things, that couldn’t happen.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Adjectives are descriptive words that can combine in numerous and ambiguous ways. “brick brown” could be interpreted as a color description and not actually implying brick as a material at all. A lot of the ordering we have internalized is probably about disambiguation.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Think of it like adding parentheses in math.

Big (brown (brick wall))

Words to the left are things that fit into what’s to their right.

A “brick wall” is a kind of wall. Brown is then a kind of brick wall. Big is a kind of brown brick wall.

That’s the best I can do, but trust me, it makes sense.