In 2013, British author Mark Forsyth quietly published his non-fiction book The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase. Though the book was critically acclaimed, this sort of genre-specific writing doesn’t usually take the world by storm. For every Eats, Shoots and Leaves, there are countless grammar- and writing-related works that fly far under the radar.
Such was the case with Elements until September of 2016 when BBC journalist Matthew Anderson tweeted a photo from the interior of his copy:
Things native English speakers know, but don’t know we know: pic.twitter.com/Ex0Ui9oBSL
— Matthew Anderson (@MattAndersonBBC) September 3, 2016
And it went viral – seriously, people around the world were latching on to this tweet, needing to know where Anderson got his information. And once you actually read the text he shared, it’s easy to see why. In this short paragraph, Forsyth concisely captured what exactly it is that makes an English sentence make sense. Did anyone else already know this? Well, probably. But who here could have put words to this sort of innate understanding of the order of adjectives? We couldn’t have. But now that we have this list, we’ll never question our sentence structure!
Here is the breakdown:
Using this nine-step guide, we can feel confident describing the Endpaper Blog as the best, international, years-old, rectangular, Canadian, online writing blog. Sure, we probably didn’t need all eight adjectives… but the order works!
What’s the most helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever read?
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