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attributive phrases in the English language

 
 
Reply Thu 30 Dec, 2010 02:53 am
I'm doing a research on attributive phrases in the English language. I want to check, if the following theory works (the order of attributes before a noun). Many linguists say that the order should be as follows: opinion, size, shape, condition, age, color, origin. For example, An ugly, big, sound, chipped, old, blue, French vase. Would you change something in this chain of attributes? I'm very interested in your opinion. Thank you.
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Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Thu 30 Dec, 2010 03:19 am
@Anastazy,
Two points.

First, the sentence you cite as an example does not contain any attributive phrase, as English grammar books in high school used the term "attributive phrase". Rather, an attributive phrase is a phrase that points to a quoted source. For example, consider the sentence: "Hello Bob!", said Alice. The part "said Alice" is called an attributive phrase, because it attributes the quote Hello Bob to its source---Alice. That's nothing like the sentence you quote.

Rather than an attributive phrase, what you have in your example is a list of adjectives modifying a noun, which leads me to my second point: In a list of adjectives modifying a noun, the order of the adjectives is arbitrary. Although some orderings may sound better than others, and some may draw the right image in the readers' minds more readily than others, any ordering works as far as the rules of English grammar are concerned. Just be careful when one of the adjectives forms a fixed term with the noun, as in French Toast.

In your example, I would keep together the "French vase". Although it isn't a fixed term, it comes close enough to one that I would instinctively hesitate to split it up. But other than that, I would feel free to scramble the order as I wished.
OmSigDAVID
 
  1  
Reply Thu 30 Dec, 2010 05:14 am
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
Two points.

First, the sentence you cite as an example does not contain any attributive phrase, as English grammar books in high school used the term "attributive phrase". Rather, an attributive phrase is a phrase that points to a quoted source. For example, consider the sentence: "Hello Bob!", said Alice. The part "said Alice" is called an attributive phrase, because it attributes the quote Hello Bob to its source---Alice. That's nothing like the sentence you quote.

Rather than an attributive phrase, what you have in your example is a list of adjectives modifying a noun, which leads me to my second point: In a list of adjectives modifying a noun, the order of the adjectives is arbitrary. Although some orderings may sound better than others, and some may draw the right image in the readers' minds more readily than others, any ordering works as far as the rules of English grammar are concerned. Just be careful when one of the adjectives forms a fixed term with the noun, as in French Toast.

In your example, I would keep together the "French vase". Although it isn't a fixed term, it comes close enough to one that I would instinctively hesitate to split it up. But other than that, I would feel free to scramble the order as I wished.
AGREED
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JTT
 
  1  
Reply Thu 30 Dec, 2010 03:14 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
In a list of adjectives modifying a noun, the order of the adjectives is arbitrary. Although some orderings may sound better than others, and some may draw the right image in the readers' minds more readily than others, any ordering works as far as the rules of English grammar are concerned.


I agree, Thomas, with your point that there is nothing in the grammar of English that specifies the ordering of adjectives, but I don't agree that the order of adjectives is, at least, completely an arbitrary thing. Didn't you give two reasons that point to such ordering not being arbitrary?

Maybe we have, like we do in so many other areas of language, a normal neutral ordering, as with adverb/verb order, and a second [or more] ordering, though I would be reluctant to term it arbitrary.

Quote:
Just be careful when one of the adjectives forms a fixed term with the noun, as in French Toast.


Is 'French' an adjective here? Don't we simply have the noun French toast?

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asherblake
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Jan, 2013 02:47 pm
@Anastazy,
We certainly have rules about the order of adjectives that go with a noun, though I don't know what they are. We would not say, "I have a blue old thing." But an "old blue thing". Nor would we say "an old blue ugly thing" but an "old ugly blue thing". Nor an "ancient, damaged, ugly thing" but instead "an ancient, damaged and ugly thing" or else we might say "an ugly, damaged, ancient thing". It definitely matters - if anyone knows the rules please let us know.
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Jan, 2013 07:55 pm
@asherblake,
Many linguists say that the order should be as follows: opinion, size, shape, condition, age, color, origin.

It was in the first posting, Asherblake.

But linguists don't say 'should' or 'must'. They look at language to see the patterns used by native speakers. The pattern described above sounds natural because we normally use them in that order. These are called the normal neutral, ie. the pattern that native speakers follow normally, in a neutral language situation.

There likely are differences sometimes, which would then not be the normal neutral.
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