There are sentences like this.

He was a calm and nice person.

He talked with vaguely old and British expression.

I always thought that since "calm and nice" is not a phrase, it came before the subject it describes (I'm not sure if "vaguely old and British" is a phrase or not). But some people say this sentence in reverse order, like this.

He was a person calm and nice.

He talked with expression vaguely old and British.

Why do some people say it like this, and what allows this to happen?

  • 3
    I am not convinced by your examples. They don't seem natural whichever way you order them. Do you have some real sentences that made you think this? Who are the 'some people' that you mention? Aug 6, 2015 at 23:05
  • In children's fairy tales, for example, there are sentences like " he was the unicorn very lovely and strong" or something of sort. Aug 6, 2015 at 23:08
  • And the full version of second sentence is "The result was a face that looked like the wings of a butterfly and bore an expression vaguely old and Chinese." This sentence came from a book. Aug 6, 2015 at 23:12
  • The simplest way to read "... bore an expression vaguely old and Chinese" is to treat it as if words were elided: "... bore an expression (that was) vaguely old and Chinese". You can apply other concepts such as your "counter order", but you get the same meaning in any case.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 6, 2015 at 23:27
  • 1
    The sentences you provided in your question are not at all what was in the book you quoted, which is perfectly fine English. Oct 6, 2015 at 15:13

1 Answer 1


Many things allow this to happen.

  • The fact that there's no rule against it.
  • Poetry, that wouldn't care if there was a rule
  • Examples like attorney general and surgeon general

The plural of attorney general is attorneys general. That's because the attorney general isn't a general but an attorney. General is the descriptive word.

It is simply more popular to put the descriptive words before the subject. This popularity is not (yet) enshrined in any rule.

When I see:

He talked with expression vaguely old and British.

It doesn't scream at me that the words are out of order. It screams for commas.

He talked with expression, vaguely old, and British.

  • You had me up to the last example. If you wanted to use punctuation, I'd use an em-dash (or maybe a colon) He talked with expression--vaguely old and British--leading our thoughts back centuries as his tale went on.
    – Stu W
    Feb 4, 2016 at 12:41
  • 1
    @StuW ah the good old em-dash. So versatile you hardly have to think about what it means. Is it a comma? Is it a colon? Is it parenthetical? Just the punctuation to use when you don't wish to be judged. Oh here comes another one Feb 5, 2016 at 6:27
  • +1 for making me laugh on a cold, rainy day (I do believe I used the comma correctly there).
    – Stu W
    Feb 5, 2016 at 13:54

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