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When learning the order of adjectives in a sentence, I thought up a word "saSHcomp" standing for the "Size-Age-Shape-Color-Origin-Material-Purpose" order.

Later, I found out that there's a slightly different order where the shape of a noun comes before its age. So, both "an old round thing" and "a round old thing" are correct and the order of the adjectives depends on the variant of the English one's using, British or American.

My question is as follows:

Might the confusion of these orders influence negatively the results of English grammar level tests taken in Great Britain or in the USA?

Can the use of this or that order manifest, in one single sentence, the origin of the writer, British or American, or, to be more exact, where they lived when they came to school?

Do native English speakers themselves ever confuse this order in the writing?

What's the order of these two adjectives that is used in the English-speaking world beyond GB and the USA — especially in Canada, Australia, and South Africa?

  • Certainly there were no grammar tests when I was at school in the UK, and the current National Curriculum is very basic. Here is the document: gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/… – JavaLatte Jul 30 '16 at 18:08
  • I can think of a couple of adjectives that "prove" the rule- for both of the rule-systems you have quoted. "battered old hat" vs "large battered hat". smelly, shiny, shrivelled behave the same way. – JavaLatte Jul 30 '16 at 18:13
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The 'standard' order of adjectives is the Royal order of adjectives, memorised as DOSSACOM Q. This is standard across all varieties of English, and even non-English languages that allow prenominal adjectives.

Whether English users get it wrong is more difficult to answer. Underlying the royal order of adjectives is another ordering of determiner > specification > description > categorisation > noun. This is fairly solid, but within the three zones of specification, description, and categorisation the order is more of a tendency or preference than a rule.

This is because underlying that is the principle that the more concrete, intrinsic, or "nouny" an adjective is, the closer to the noun it goes. For example, if we compare the large round coin with the large round table, 'round' is very concrete. They are either round or they are not - there is not much to argue about and 'round' has the same meaning for both, so it is placed close to the noun. 'Large', however, is relative. A large coin is much smaller than a large table, and a table the size of a large coin would be considered tiny, so 'large' is placed far to the left of the noun.

There are limits to this. Size, length, and height are equally "nouny", concrete, and intrinsic, yet they appear in precisely that order, suggesting that it is mere convention. On top of this, deciding how "nouny", concrete, or intrinsic an adjective is, is quite subjective. This makes the whole notion of 'wrong' a bit cloudy, at least within the previously mentioned zones.

  • No quotes needed, perhaps: see link! – P. E. Dant Jul 30 '16 at 18:13
  • @P.E.Dant - thanks for that! It is nice to know that 'nouny' is a real word... – Roaring Fish Jul 30 '16 at 18:19
  • I've been trying for quite a while to discover why the order is "royal." Presumably it originated in an ukase handed down by a York, Lancaster, Plantagenet, or Tudor, but I can't find it. – P. E. Dant Jul 30 '16 at 18:38
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    There are variants of DOSSACOMQ, of course. BBC site has this, for instance, and "determiner" seems to have been supplanted by "opinion," e.g. here. – P. E. Dant Jul 30 '16 at 19:21
  • @P.E.Dant - It's the placement of adjectives of age and shape (before or after each other) that is different in the explanation on the BBC site (your link, thanks for it) and in the "royal order" set - and my question is about that. – Rompey Jul 30 '16 at 21:55

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