I don't know if there are any patterns/rules for "grammatical don'ts" that pertain to Parts of Speech.

For the sake of clarity, I refer to things such as:
1) Noun Noun Noun
2) Verb Noun Adverb
3) Determiner Adjective Determiner

Are there patterns that are not permitted, considered poorly constructed, etc?

I'm playing around with word patterns, and found just how lacking I am in knowledge of my own language. (Yes, I've searched here and Google–but I'm shocked at my inability to find anything relevant.)

Just a quick update... I'm more than willing to move onwards from the "standard" PoS (8? : N V AV ADJ DT etc.) to some of the subclassifications (Comparative Adjective, Linking Verbs etc.)–anything that gives more definition and classification is better than where I currently stand (or fall). So if it can be pointed out that 'some types of Verb' can follow 'some types of Adjective', then I'll be happy with that, especially if the types are provided!

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    I can't tell but are you looking for a more technically specified grammar of English?
    – Mitch
    Oct 18, 2011 at 12:26

3 Answers 3


I know of no comprehensive statement of what patterns might and might not be possible, but all native speakers will know what they are, even if they can’t formulate them. Of the three examples, the first is possible (word search program, in which the first two nouns act as adjectives) and so is the second (She kissed Ben passionately), but I think it unlikely that an adjective can ever occur between two determiners.

  • Thank you. Well so far, all I can come up with are things like DT DT is not possible (one would have to be a Noun, as you would be refering to/discussing it). The same for multiple Nouns in a row, the preceeding would have to become describers/adjectives. - So anything like that is what I'm after. Then there are things like Split infinitives? "to boldly go..." is apparently wrong, it should be "to go boldly" ? Oct 18, 2011 at 9:37
  • 'To boldly go' is not wrong. The English infinitive is a single word, so there is nothing to split. Oct 18, 2011 at 14:52

Grammar of natural languages doesn't work on strings of words, but on recursively embedded structures (which means structures that can have other structures inside them).

A sequence of words will be grammatical (in the sense that linguistics uses the word) if there is a grammatical structure that corresponds to it (sometimes there may be more than one such structure, in which case the sequence is formally ambiguous).

The grammar of noun phrases in English says that if a determiner occurs, it must come first, so your third example cannot occur as a constituent in a grammatical English utterance. But it doesn't rule out that sequence as a string of words in a grammatical sentence, such as "Bring me a plate of food, and the fuller the better".

  • [corrected]Hmmm .... okay, I'm taking it that there are no real "rules" per-se for this stuff. I was hoping there were word classes that would make it possible to identify impossible/improbable/undersirable constructs/structures. Instead it seems there is only common sense, observation and stylistic options. Thank you both. Oct 18, 2011 at 12:44
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    @theclueless1: There are rules, but they are rules of grammatical structure, not of sequences of words. See any modern English reference grammar (not a teaching grammar).
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 18, 2011 at 13:22
  • @ Colin Fine - I failed to find anythng "obvious" (or not so) doing a quick search. There appear to be some books, but I have no idea what's in those books. Oct 18, 2011 at 17:11
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    @theclueless1: I'm not familiar with the books available (which is why I wasn't specific) but I'm pretty sure that The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, for example, has this.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 19, 2011 at 11:58
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    @theclueless1 sounds like you're interested in syntax! Check out this reference that has diagrams and trees. If it's too much at once, try a gentle introduction to linguistics, like Fromkin/Rodman/Hyams. And keep in mind that further questions on the topic might be suited for us over at Linguistics.se :)
    – aedia λ
    Oct 20, 2011 at 4:26

The OP might want to investigate syntagmatics, defined by the Freedictionary.com as "denoting or concerning the relationship between a word and other members of a syntactic unit containing it".

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