The Very Particular Grammar Rule You Probably Never Knew—But Use Every Day

CarlosDavid.org/iStock via Getty Images
CarlosDavid.org/iStock via Getty Images

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 book The 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:

1. Opinion
2. Size
3. Physical quality
4. Shape
5. Age
6. Color
7. Origin
8. Material
9. Type
10. Purpose

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.

[h/t Inc.]

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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In a Bold Move, Microsoft Office Is Now Flagging Double Spaces Between Sentences as an Error

Please, thumbs, step away from the spacebar.
Please, thumbs, step away from the spacebar.
Christina Morillo, Pexels

For decades, proponents of typing a single space after a period have waged a friendly war against their double-space adversaries on a virtual battlefield. Now, the battlefield itself is taking sides: Microsoft Word will start marking double spaces between sentences as an error.

The change is definitely a gradual one, and you probably won’t see it on your own computer just yet. According to The Verge, Microsoft has been testing the edit on the desktop version of Word, and they’ll begin rolling it out to all users in the near future. Once they do, you will still be able to opt out of it—as with other spelling and grammar recommendations from Microsoft’s Editor feature, you can choose to accept the change, ignore it once, or disable that particular suggestion altogether.

“As the crux of the great spacing debate, we know this is a stylistic choice that may not be the preference for all writers, which is why we continue to test with users and enable these suggestions to be easily accepted, ignored, or flat out dismissed in Editor,” Kirk Gregersen, a Microsoft partner director of program management, told The Verge.

But even if you choose to ignore the actual edit, it’s harder to ignore the winds of change that are raising the inevitable white flag of surrender higher and higher into the air, much to the dismay of the ever-dwindling league of double-spacers.

If you’re new to this strange, specific battle of wills, it’s probably because you started typing sometime after the turn of the century, when computers had already replaced typewriters. On a typewriter, each character takes up the same amount of horizontal space. That means narrow letters like i have quite a bit of extra space on either side of them. The uneven distribution makes it difficult to tell when a space before a new sentence is actually indicating a new sentence, or is just extra space from a small character. To cut down on confusion, people adopted the practice of typing two spaces after every period. The practice prevailed even when computers—with much more proportionally spaced fonts—became the norm, since people had already been so well-trained to hit the spacebar twice at the start of each sentence.

With the entire publishing industry moving toward a single space, and Microsoft now actively joining the effort, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before seeing a double space after a period will be just as rare as actually using a typewriter.

[h/t The Verge]