From A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.

France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down hill, making paper money and spending it.

I am wondering how the following is used- or which one of these would be tantamount to correct phrase?

matters spiritual

spiritual matters

  • 2
    You might like to check out Why do some adjectives follow the nouns they modify? on ELU. Essentially, the "non-standard" sequence in your example (over 150 years old) usually only occurs in formal or "affected" contexts today (where it might lend a "touch of gravitas", but I wouldn't recommend learners to copy the style, since it won't always work at all). Mar 9 '15 at 18:58
  • Agreed - you need to know when you use it & when to leave it alone. Not easy for a non-native I wouldn't have thought. Mar 9 '15 at 18:59
  • When you do not provide the source of your quote, you do not allow folks the opportunity to answer the question according to context. Also you need to indicate that you are citing someone else's material, but you've been told about this before.
    – user6951
    Mar 9 '15 at 19:21
  • As @Fumble's comment exemplifies, in Dickens, you are going to run into very many constructions in grammar that are outdated. This is only going to prompt more and more questions about such things, including such things as convoluted grammar. Again, at your level of English, your time would be better used reading a work of contemporary English, or at least something from the 20th century.
    – user6951
    Mar 9 '15 at 19:28
  • They mean exactly the same thing. Since this is from a literary work, the rules of grammar and semantics are less strict. Dickens just switched the positions to emphasize one word over the other. In formal writing it would be "spiritual matters". I can draft a detailed answer if you still think you need one.
    – Gary
    Mar 9 '15 at 20:20

In that particular sentence, the entire structure is designed to sound somewhat 'knowing' & also slightly archaic, hence the archaic form of "matters spiritual", rather than the more modern "spiritual matters".

Take "her sister of the shield & trident"
It would be far easier to say Britain, but it wouldn't convey the same imagery.

If I didn't actually like the overall effect of it, I'd be tempted to say it was a bit too smug for its own good, overall ;-)
but I do, so I won't

  • It's Dickens, but the OP didn't bother to let you know.
    – user6951
    Mar 9 '15 at 19:30
  • 1
    @δοῦλος I did later realise - but thought my answer still stood. I once made the unfortunate [for Dickens] mistake of reading him just after I'd finished a Dostoyevsky… it did make him seem a little 'light in stature' by comparison. Mar 9 '15 at 19:43
  • ........... True that.
    – user6951
    Mar 9 '15 at 19:44
  • 1
    @δοῦλος I especially still hold to the 'too smug for its own good' phrase ;) Though I'm not the one to be critical of Dickens - you can't be famous for 150 years & be 'no good', even if you did at the time write serial stories for newspapers for a living. Mar 9 '15 at 19:47

The phrases have different meanings, as you say. The first, "matters spiritual", describes all things related to spirituality. This could involve the soul, for example. It has the same meaning as "spiritual things".

"I'm educated on all matters spiritual."

Similarly, "spiritual matters" can mean the exact same thing in that context-- swap the two words and the meaning doesn't really change.

Say it were a different context, however:

"I'm learning to program, because programming matters"

This sentence is saying that programming matters, and is of great importance.

  • I really don't know which one of the answers I should select. Overall thanks all.
    – nima
    Mar 13 '15 at 7:27
  • In "I'm learning to program, because programming matters" programming matters has nothing to do with two adjectives. It is a subject and a verb. I have no idea why you have included it in the answer. It could be misleading to a learner.
    – user6951
    May 23 '15 at 1:40

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