word order (was Re: Random DWJ discovery of the day)

Colin Fine colin at kindness.demon.co.uk
Thu Mar 31 16:10:56 EST 2005

minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:

>Bettina answered Colin,
>>I wonder about the word-order thing, esp. the sublte variants in English.
>>Probably they've been lost on me so far...?
>I don't know how subtle Colin/Dorian was meaning, but "I just want a
>verdict" and "I want a just verdict" and "I want just a verdict" mean quite
>different things.  And "I only care for money" and "I care only for money"
>and "I care for only money" are three quite distinct sorts of interest in
>dosh, but I'd hate to try to explain *why*, or wherein precisely the
>difference lies.
I cry *foul* in the case of "I want a just verdict" - this is a 
different word 'just'.
I accept the general claim, but I wonder whether English is really 
different from German in this

>Come to think of it, "I don't know which" and "which I don't know" mean
>different things, and have to go into different contexts in order for them
>to make sense properly.
Indeed. (In German the verb has to go to the end of subordinate clauses, 
but not main clauses).

>"Now tidy your room" is one of a chain of instructions ("Hang your coat up.
>Put your shoes on the rack.  Pick up those books.  Now tidy your room", as
>it might be; "Tidy your room now" is an imperative command, in isolation
>and generally exasperation.  Where the word "now" is put in the sentence
>makes a lot of difference.
>Even the order of adjectives applied to a word may be important.  ("The
>order even of adjectives"?  "The even order of adjectives"?  "The order of
>even adjectives"? -- which is not unakin to the Loyal Order of Moose, who
>are of course not the same as the Order of Loyal Moose.)  Anyhow and before
>I get more distracted, sometimes the order is set and one can't use them
>the other way round without it sounding wrong: a tall dark stranger and a
>little old lady are fixed, as is a dark and stormy night.  Sometimes it
>isn't: one could have a round little man or a little round man, and the one
>would be a small person who happened to be fat and the other a corpulent
>individual of diminutive stature: the nearer adjective to the noun is taken
>as being more inherent or something.  He's little, oh and by the way round;
>he's round, oh and by the way little.  As opposed to the other little man
>we were discussing a moment ago, or the other round man.
There are rules for the ordering of adjectives in English (for example 
colour adjectives go
closer to their head than almost anything else).
Strangely, these are never taught in English schools (I don't know 
whether they're taught to
learners of English as a second language). Why not? Because, unlike some 
of the rules which
have traditionally been taught in schools, they are actually part of 
English, and as such are acquired unthinkingly
by *every* English-speaking child with normal language abilities.
I think I'll get off my soap-box now.


>I [now] think I shall [now] make my escape [now] before the red-bearded
>dwarfs enter the courtroom!
>(Put the [now] wherever you want in that sentence; I couldn't make up my
>mind which meaning I preferred.)
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