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What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?
3

What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

(OP)

Quote:

I first tried to write a story when I was about seven. It was about a dragon. I remember nothing about it except a philological fact. My mother said nothing about the dragon, but pointed out that one could not say 'a green great dragon', but had to say 'a great green dragon'. I wondered why, and still do.
J.R.R. Tolkien, from a letter to W.H. Auden (7 June 1955)

I tried to figure what the rule was, and was not sure.  Someone suggested that the that the hierarchy list list is:

CODE

Opinion :: size :: age :: shape :: color :: origin :: material :: purpose

Do people agree?  And can anyone find a good exception? I've a feeling that to say an ancient cryptic immense blue pyramid is valid English, though it breaks the rule.

Even more interesting would be a phrase which doesn't sound right even though it uses sensible English words in the order proposed.

 

------------------------------
An old man tiger who lives in the UK  

RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

Yes, there is a hierarchy of adjectives and adjectives should appear in that order.  I use different names for the hierarchy, but it's essentially the same, with the exception of a slightly different order within the physical characteristics level.

1 - Determinants
2 - Observations
3 - Physical characteristics
   3a - Size and Shape
   3b - Age and Color
4 - Origins
5 - Substance
6 - Qualifiers  (Actually, I think 'purpose' may be better)

The adjective 'great' which is an 'observation' adjective should come before 'green', which is obviously a physical characteristic.

As far the phrase "an ancient cryptic immense blue pyramid", the only real question is whether the adjective 'ancient' is considered an observation or an age reference.  I think you can make a case for either way.  Ancient could be a loose observational judgment, thus putting it first in line, just as easily as it could be a specific age reference, in which case I would place it immediately before 'blue'.

To take it one step further, if you consider ancient to be an observational adjective, then the phrase "an ancient, cryptic immense blue pyramid" is perfectly valid provided that a comma is placed between ancient and cryptic.  Whenever two adjectives from the same hierarchical level are used, they are called "coordinating adjectives" and should be separated by a comma.
 

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RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

I suppose a lot depends on the nature of the dragons the young Tolkein had in mind. If "Great Dragons" are a particular type of dragon (as opposed to "Lesser Dragons" I suppose), and they could be different colours, then "green great dragon" would be valid alongside "red great dragon" etc. "Great dragon" would in effect be a noun, and "green" would be a single adjective.

Possible examples: "due to a leak of dye into the pond, we have a family of green great crested grebe", "The Prime Minister called for a green Great Britain".

-- Chris Hunt
Webmaster & Tragedian
Extra Connections Ltd

RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

I thought about that, too, but then wouldn't be "green Great Dragon" vs. "blue Lesser Dragon?" (Or am I thinking about a caged grudge match? winky smile )
 

James P. Cottingham
-----------------------------------------
I'm number 1,229!
I'm number 1,229!

RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

"an ancient cryptic immense blue pyramid",  should be:
"an immense, ancient, cryptic  blue pyramid".
This tells us that:
1]It's big
2]it's old
3]it's mystifying
4]it's blue [maybe it's sad]
5]obviously a pyramid
Commas are proper, and necessary to qualify each word.

"Impatience will reward you with dissatisfaction" RMS Cosmics'97

RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

Wow.

This is one of the most interesting topics to have come along in a long time.

I currently have no opinion on the topic, and I'm still processing the proposed rules above.  Mostly, I'm just fascinated because this is something I've never given any thought, yet it's clear that, in my mind at least, there are some sort of rules.

RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

Interestingly (to me at least), while Tolkien's mother's comment was surely regarding 'green' as an adjective, it is precisely because of the influence of Tolkien that Gary Gygax, et al, coined names (nouns) for these creatures.  So there is in fact a Green Dragon and a Platinum Dragon. [aside] Unless you had an overzealous dungeon master like me, then you may have killed the Platinum Dragon on a lark[/aside]

But the point is well taken and like KornGeek, I have considered the order from a writing stand point, but never realized that there were rules to which I should refer for an adjectival hierarchy.

~Thadeus
 

RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

What is truly baffling about this thread is that I was never explicitly taught any rules for this, yet I have clearly learned some.

How is it that as a native English speaker, I have picked up some implicit rules ("great green dragon" sounds right, but "grean great dragon" sounds wrong) without knowing it?

RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

KornGreek, could it be that it sounds wrong because grean is not the word you wanted?

Actaully since we learn grammar rules more by listening than by being taught formal rules in school. I think is is entirely possible that we have many implicit rules that we have simply never formally defined. I can't explicitly define the adjective order rule, but clearly I have one for every multiple adjective phrase I use because I know which order sounds right and which ones do not.

"NOTHING is more important in a database than integrity." ESquared
 

RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

==> I can't explicitly define the adjective order rule
For the most part, adjectives go in order from the general to the specific.  In other words, the more specific the adjective, the close to the noun it appears.  Green is more specific than great, so green should be closer to the noun than great.
 

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RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

Star to CC for the last post in particular.  I remember learning that short version of the rule, and I think it makes a lot of sense.  Now, do I actually use it?  Can't say I recall.

--

"If to err is human, then I must be some kind of human!" -Me

RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

Quote (CajunCenturion):

For the most part, adjectives go in order from the general to the specific.  In other words, the more specific the adjective, the close to the noun it appears.  Green is more specific than great, so green should be closer to the noun than great.

As in:

Quote (Kipling):

The great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo River

perhaps?

Nullum gratuitum prandium.
--Sleipinir214

 

RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

Anyone who knows the rules as well as Kipling, knows too when they need not be followed.
 

--------------
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To get the most from your Tek-Tips experience, please read
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RE: What's wrong with a Green Great Dragon?

Star to Chris Hunt.
It was a story. It could be whatever kind of dragon Tolkien wanted it to be.

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