You don’t have to know the precise grammar rule behind the sentence Me went to the store to know that it’s wrong—but you probably learned it in school, even if you don’t remember it. Object pronouns like me can’t be used as subjects; it should be the subject pronoun I. In other cases, you probably don’t even realize that there is a grammatical explanation behind why a certain sentence or phrase sounds wrong. Big, red machine sounds much better than Red, big machine, right? As Inc.reports, that’s because we automatically use adjectives in a really specific order.
In his lovely, rectangular bookThe Elements of Eloquence, Mark Forsyth illustrates that order with this example: Lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. The adjectives start with opinion (little) and progress through an additional seven categories, ending with purpose (whittling).
Here’s the full breakdown:
1. Opinion (lovely)
2. Size (little)
3. Age (old)
4. Shape (rectangular)
5. Color (green)
6. Origin (French)
7. Material (silver)
8. Purpose (whittling)
If you significantly alter that order, you might make it difficult for your listeners or readers to even understand the meaning. Whittling French green lovely rectangular silver old little knife sounds like nonsense. Breaking up whittling and knife with any adjective, like whittling French knife or whittling little knife, almost makes it sound like the knife is currently whittling.
Forsyth’s classification system works well with his example phrase, but he’s not the only grammarian with thoughts on the matter. Cambridge Dictionary offers its own classification system, which includes two extra categories: Physical quality (like thin or rough) and type (like general-purpose or four-sized).
It also slightly reorders Forsyth’s categories, as you can see below:
3. Physical quality
According to those rules, Forsyth’s whittling knife should be a lovely little rectangular old knife, rather than a lovely little old rectangular knife. Breaking up little and old might sound odd, but it’s possible that we’re just really accustomed to hearing little and old right next to each other, as in little old lady or little old me.
As is common in the world of linguistics, there are often different interpretations—and almost always exceptions—when it comes to grammar, and you can definitely rely on your instincts for this one, since they’ve likely been serving you well before you ever knew about adjective order. Hopefully, you’ll never need to describe a noun with more than a few adjectives, anyway.
Curious what other grammar rules you didn’t know you knew? Here are four more.
Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.
1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29
This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.
You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.
What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.
Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.
The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.
Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.
Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.
9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40
Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.
Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.
If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.
The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.
Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.
Because sometimes periods, commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes, hyphens, apostrophes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks, brackets, parentheses, braces, and ellipses won't do, here are a few other punctuation marks to work into your everyday communications.
You probably already know the interrobang, thanks to its excellent moniker and popularity (You did what!? or You don't read Mental Floss?!). Though the combination exclamation point and question mark can be replaced by using one of each, they can also be combined into a single glyph. The interrobang was invented by advertising executive Martin Speckter in 1962; according to his obituary in The New York Times the interrobang was “said to be the typographical equivalent of a grimace or a shrug of the shoulders. It applied solely to the rhetorical, Mr. Speckter said, when a writer wished to convey incredulity.” The name is derived from the Latin word interrogatio, which means “questioning,” and bang—how printers refer to the exclamation mark.
2. Percontation Point or Rhetorical Question Mark
The backward question mark was proposed by printer Henry Denham in the 16th century as an end to a rhetorical question. According to Lynne Truss in the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, “it didn’t catch on.”
3. Irony Mark
According to Keith Houston, author of Shady Characters, it was British philosopher John Wilkins who first suggested an irony mark, which he thought should be an inverted exclamation point.
Next came Alcanter de Brahm, who introduced his own irony mark (above)—which de Brahm said took “the form of a whip”— in the 19th century. Then, in 1966, French author Hervé Bazin proposed his irony mark, which looks a bit like an exclamation point with a lowercase U through the middle [PDF], in his book, Plumons l’Oiseau, along with five other pieces of punctuation.
4. Love Point
Among Bazin's proposed new punctuation marks was the love point. It was composed of two mirrored question marks that formed a heart and shared a point. The intended use, of course, was to denote a statement of affection or love, as in "Happy anniversary [love point]" or "I have warm fuzzies [love point]."
5. Acclamation Point
Bazin described this mark as "the stylistic representation of those two little flags that float above the tour bus when a president comes to town." Acclamation is a "demonstration of goodwill or welcome," so you could use it to say "I'm so happy to see you [acclamation point]" or "Viva Las Vegas [acclamation point]."
6. Certitude Point
Need to say something with unwavering conviction? End your declaration with the certitude point, another of Bazin's designs, which is an exclamation point with a line through it. As Phil Jamieson writes at Proofread Now’s GrammerPhile blog, “This punctuation would best be used instead of writing in all caps.”
7. Doubt Point
Another Bazin creation, the doubt point—which looks a little like a cross between the letter Z and a question mark—is the opposite of the certitude point, and thus is used to end a sentence with a note of skepticism.
8. Authority Point
Bazin's authority point "shades your sentence" with a note of expertise, "like a parasol over a sultan." (“Well, I was there and that's what happened [authority point].”) Likewise, it's also used to indicate an order or advice that should be taken seriously, as it comes from a voice of authority.
Unfortunately, as Houston writes at the BBC, “Bazin’s creations were doomed to fail from the start. Though his new symbols looked familiar, crucially, they were impossible to type on a typewriter. The author himself never used them after Plumons l’Oiseau and the book’s playful tone discouraged other writers from taking them up too, so that today the love point, irony point, and the rest are little more than curiosities.”
The SarcMark (short for "sarcasm mark") looks like a swirl with a dot in the middle. According to its website, “Its creator, Douglas Sak, was writing an email to a friend and was attempting to be sarcastic. It occurred to him that the English language, and perhaps other languages, lacked a punctuation mark to denote sarcasm.” The SarcMark was born—and trademarked—and it debuted in 2010. While the SarcMark hasn't seen widespread use, Saks markets it as "the official, easy-to-use punctuation mark to emphasize a sarcastic phrase, sentence or message." Because half the fun of sarcasm is pointing it out [SarcMark].
10. Snark Mark
This, like the SarcMark, is used to indicate that a sentence should be understood beyond the literal meaning. Unlike the SarcMark, however, this one is copyright-free and easy to type: It's just a period followed by a tilde. It was created by typographer Choz Cunningham in 2007.
According to Houston, this triangular trio of asterisks was “named for a constellation of stars and used as late as the 1850s to indicate ‘a note of considerable length, which has no reference.’”
12. And 13. Exclamation Comma and Question Comma
According to the Huffington Post, Leonard Storch, Ernst van Haagen, and Sigmund Silber created both the exclamation comma and the question comma—an exclamation mark with a comma for a bottom point, and a question mark with a comma for a point, respectively—in 1992. The patent for the marks (which expired in 1995) reads:
“Using two new punctuation marks, the question comma and the exclamation comma … inquisitiveness and exclamation may be expressed within a written sentence structure, so that thoughts may be more easily and clearly conveyed to readers. The new punctuation marks are for use within a written sentence between words as a comma, but with more feeling or inquisitiveness. This affords an author greater choice of method of punctuating, e.g., to reflect spoken language more closely. Moreover, the new punctuation fits rather neatly into the scheme of things, simply filling a gap, with a little or no explanation needed.”
The patent closes with an imagining of what a reader might “silently remark” when seeing the marks for the first time: “Clever [exclamation comma] funny I never saw one of those before.”