Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Right now I can only think of one instance in which this regularly occurs. The adjective proper is sometimes placed after the noun it modifies, e.g:

Reptilia: A class of cold-blooded oviparous or ovoviviparous vertebrated animals whose skin is covered with scales or scutes; the reptiles proper.

What is this word order called, and why is it ever used?

Edit: I really want to know about proper, and while the word hyperbaton relates to post-positivity when it is meant to be rhetorically impacting, it doesn't seem to fit with ubiquitous post-positivity, such as that of proper. I've accepted hyperbaton as the correct term/reason for almost all post-positive constructions, but I'd like a complete answer to include proper.

share|improve this question
1  
    
Note that most non-adjective modifiers are placed after the noun, including relative clauses and prepositional phrases. –  shuhalo Apr 1 '13 at 19:29
1  
I really like post-positive adjectives. They put more emphasis on the noun, like "fields green," "children young," &c. They're common in Swedish spoken by older people, for example, "pojkarna små" (the boys small), and "ängar gröna" (fields green). –  jocap Oct 11 '13 at 17:20

2 Answers 2

These are called post-positive adjectives:

A postpositive adjective is an adjective that appears after the noun that it modifies. In some languages this is the normal syntax, but in English it is rare, largely confined to archaic or institutional expressions. Aplenty, galore, and the informal extraordinaire are examples of adjectives that are primarily used postpositively in modern English. Name suffixes, such as Junior and Senior, also function as postpositive adjectives modifying proper names.

Why do they follow these nouns? Sometimes it is imperative for them to follow the nouns they modify. For example, in your example, there's a difference between "proper reptiles" and "reptiles proper". Taking a look at another example:

Adjectives may even change meaning depending on whether they precede or follow, as in proper: They live in a proper town (a real town, not a village) vs. They live in the town proper (in the town itself, not in the suburbs)

That's why they are sometimes used after the nouns proper.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 just for the name, but the rest isn't quite satisfying. Just because proper has a different meaning when it follows the noun doesn't make it obvious why the word order was invented in the first place. –  Daniel Sep 18 '11 at 22:06
2  
Here is some speculation about where "X proper" might have come from. From this heraldry website: ProperUsed in blazon to specify that a charge appears in its natural colors. "A zebra proper" has the zebra’s characteristic pattern of black and white stripes. "A tree proper" has a brown trunk and green leaves. Going from the heraldic meaning to the current meaning after a noun seems a relatively natural metaphor. –  Peter Shor Sep 18 '11 at 23:58
2  
And looking at the list of post-positive adjectives in the link, I suspect a large number of them were taken from French, where many more adjectives can appear after the noun. –  Peter Shor Sep 19 '11 at 0:01
    
@PeterShor Interesting about the heraldry. You're almost certainly right, given that 'proper' in French ('propre') means 'own' ie the zebra's own colours. –  Mynamite Apr 2 '13 at 0:12

This is called hyperbaton, which means to use out of the normal order to emphasis or to modify the meaning of the noun preceding the adjective. Another example is the movie title Mission Impossible. The writing guide Bang: Writing with Impact explains it this way:

Any time you place words out of their normal order, you create impact. You force the reader to pay attention to them, reflect on them, and remember them. In this strategy, you immediately follow the name of a thing with an adjective or descriptive phrase. In this way, the description becomes part of the name of the thing; they are inseparable. When your reader thinks of the thing, he or she will also think of the description because the description becomes part of the name.

Your reader will notice this immediately, which means this strategy can be used to emphasize a key characteristic. However, because this change in word order is so obvious and so prone to sounding contrived, it must be used carefully and infrequently. In the right place, it can be a highly effective technique for emphasizing a point. Use it at the end of a sentence for greatest impact.

“This is a plan impossible.”

share|improve this answer
    
This doesn't explain proper, but it explains just about everything else! –  Daniel Oct 5 '11 at 22:06
    
In "reptiles proper," the word-order isn't for emphasis or to modify the meaning of "reptiles" (except in the sense that any adjective modifies the meaning of its noun). –  Ben Crowell Feb 13 at 3:47

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.