The hidden rules of English

Why does “One nice big old round yellow brick house” sound fine, but “one brick nice round yellow old big house” sound weird? Welcome to the hidden rules of English.

Rüdiger Müller [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In particular, the order of adjectives in English follows a set of rules usually summarised as OSASCOMP:

  1. Observation/opinion (“nice”)
  2. Size (“big”)
  3. Age (“old”)*
  4. Shape (“round”)*
  5. Colour (“yellow”)
  6. Origin
  7. Material (“brick”)
  8. Purpose

*Other authorities flip these two.

Native speakers learn this order but usually cannot articulate it explicitly; if you’re learning English, you have to learn and internalise it as part of learning the language.

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