Category Archives: English language

English is largely made up of the rules we don’t know that we know.

Have you ever wondered why many foreign speakers of English, as fluent as they may be, never entirely master the language? I can think of the Dutch. Many Dutch people speak English well, but there are few that speak it really well, like a native-speaker – unless they spent some time growing up in a English-speaking country. I exclude those. Mark Forsyth’s fascinating piece on BBC online explains why.

The language rules we know but don’t know we know

Over the weekend, I happened to go viral. Or rather a single paragraph from a book I wrote called The Elements of Eloquence went viral. The guilty paragraph went like this:

“Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.”  Read on…