In Humphrey Carpenter’s biography Tolkien, JRR remembers at age seven that his mother taught him
that one could not say “a green great dragon”, but had to say “a great green dragon”. I wondered why, and still do.
I admit that ‘a great green dragon’ sounds better to my ear, but is there some language reason/rule that both JRR and I (ERR) have missed?
Dragons come in various colors, just as dogs come in breeds. There are mighty and courageous bronzes and smaller, weaker, playful greens, to name two colors. .
There are both miniature collies, and miniature poodles, but not collie and poodle miniatures. Similarly, great would seem to apply to the breed, rather than the other way around.
But I haven’t visited Pern since the 1970s, and my memory is a little foggy.
Adjective order is a fascinating topic in Syntax. Unsurprisingly, there are differing rules by language. Here are some discussions at different levels regarding English.
A quick guide to English adjective order
An easy academic discussion of Adjective Order in English (also a few examples in other languages).
Yeah, me too. Couldn’t find jack about what “NP” was. It’s used several times in that paper. I was kinda working with “noun phrase” for “NP” but that didn’t scan for some instances. I checked acronymfinder.com and “noun phrase” is the #5 hit. But I’m still not sure.
Then Rosato throws in a “DP” on page 5, and I have no idea what that might mean. Tried it on acronymfinder.com and got 218 hits, none of which made sense.
Glenn, that first link (A quick guide to English adjective order) was very interesting. I didn’t know the adjective hierarchy was so well-defined. Thanks!
You are right. NP should be noun phrase. DP is a determiner phrase, a newfangled way for some academics to look at what others call noun phrases. Think of the distinction between NP and DP as purely academic or philosophical. The writer is simply explaining his choice to use NP rather than DP in his notation.
Sure, I’m dredging up an older thread, but I just ran into this curious usage.
Latest issue of Scientific American includes this text:
” … his team of amateur astronomers are monitoring variable young stars …”
Now I looked at Glenn’s adjective order link (Post #3) and see that “age” is clearly specified in the adjective sequence, but I’m not sure where “variable” fits into that scheme.
To my mind, “variable star” is a category itself, and “young” should precede “variable.” In fact, I had to wonder if the writer meant “various” instead of “variable” but I couldn’t be sure from the context.
Any insights most appreciated.
I not only agree with your choice of adjective order, but think that in an astronomical discussion “variable star” would be considered a noun in its own right. This may be just another way of saying that this type of categorizing adjective is equivalent to the material or purpose adjectives in the chart in Glenn’s first link. To take this back to Emmett’s original post, “green great dragon” would sound right if (and only if?) we knew that there were great dragons and lesser dragons, such that, perhaps, green great dragons are rather docile, but red great dragons and all lesser dragons are fierce. It seems exceedingly odd to me that an astronomer would make that order switch. Then again, I haven’t been an active scientist in many years.
‘Young variable stars’ sounds right.
But suppose a research is all driven by something about young stars. Then the leader might say, ‘Now let’s concentrate on the ones that are also variable, variable young stars.’ That adjective order now seems a lot more instinctive and appropriate given that context.
Robert said: But suppose a research is all driven by something about young stars. Then the leader might say, ‘Now let’s concentrate on the ones that are also variable, variable young stars.’ That adjective order now seems a lot more instinctive and appropriate given that context.
An excellent point. “Variable young stars” could be correct in some contexts. Unfortunately, the context of the article left me clueless on that.
Tromboniator said: … in an astronomical discussion “variable star” would be considered a noun in its own right.
Indeed. The term “variable star” is well established in the astronomical community as a compound noun. So it should stay attached regardless of any additional adjectives. But “variable young stars” still sounds just plain wrong to me.
The order of adjectives can certainly be influenced by subtle factors.
As I understan it the “variable” in “variable star” refers to brightness. I would certainly say “shiny new car” or “bright new car.”
The article (second link) discusses such irregularities. A common irregularity is when the topic is established. If we are talking about “shiny cars”, you could easy see “Now let’s turn our attention to a new shiny car.”
If “variable” in a star is seen as an especially intrinsic, or the established topic, the article indicates it should be moved to a position especially close to the noun.
This judgment could account also for some difference of opinion.
Let me hasten to point out that I could be way off track here, but my sense, after reading a couple of articles about variable stars, is that saying “variable young stars” is a bit like saying “school new buses” or “baseball wooden bats,” that it would be normal to shift the emphasis rather than the adjective: young variable star or young variable star.
Glenn said: As I understand it the “variable” in “variable star” refers to brightness. I would certainly say “shiny new car” or “bright new car.”
Yes it does. A “variable star” varies in brightness with a usually regular period. That compound noun is as well established, as is “progenitor star” or “binary star.” You really can’t break up those compound nouns with another adjective.
Tromboniator seems to agree. I will write off this usage as an editing error, or a poor relation of context.
Convention always has this unintended utility- you can highlight your intention by making to appear contrary. (Or it gives clue to context if you even have no choice but to be contrary)
An idiom breaker?- ‘I’ll be if it’s not old good Bob!’ I never heard it, but if I did (as well all the other ones so far), I would think about what the person had in mind, trusting that he knows what he’s doing.
The mention of school buses and baseball bats points out that the study omits the mention of noun-adjectives, but the first link calls them purpose adjectives. The guides that mention them puts them just before and adjacent to the noun, and includes gerunds such as running and serving.
Big red running shoes
Round oak serving table
Ugly clay chimney pot
Fragile glass tree ornament
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