My favorite concept that I learned this year is hyperbaton.  I didn’t realize it was a rule that I could not write “a blue tiny beautiful egg.”  That’s hyperbaton:  an odd order of words.  Adjectives must be in this sequence:  opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, purpose and then the noun.

e-of-eLuckily for this native English speaker, this just gets into our heads as we learn language.  I was never taught this rule and yet, I know how to order the adjectives.

This startling revelation came to me from “The Elements of Eloquence” by Mark Forsyth.  It is a delightful little softcover book (note the proper sequence).

In the same chapter as hyperbaton, he also reveals the secret of “ablaut reduplication.”  The word is hip-hop, never hop-hip.  Or flip-flop, not the reverse.  “When you repeat a word with a different vowel, the order is I A O.”  I had no idea that was a rule, a rule with a name.  Ding-dong.


2 thoughts on “Hyperbaton

  1. That sounds like a wonderful book. English grammar was “my thing” in school and I’ve always loved the subject. I read an article recently about hyperbaton, though the article didn’t use that word (which I just learned from you). I had never thought about it before but recognized the truth of it immediately. So much of how we use our native language is simply instinctive, I think, the rules almost absorbed through our skin as we learn to speak it.


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