I'm a native English speaker. As I understand, English grammar rules specify a particular ordering of types of adjectives.

In Buddhism, there is a "noble eightfold path". That is, a path, that is noble, and has eight components.

Yet if we substitute "noble" for its synonym "patrician", and "eightfold" for its (rare) synonym "octadic", and "path" for its synonym "way", now we don't have *"patrician octadic way" but rather "octadic patrician way".

Why does the order swap when the adjectives & nouns are synonymous in each?

  • 3
    Patrician isn't really a synonym of noble in that sense. "Noble" has several meanings and the one used in "eightfold path" isn't the same as "patrician". If you used "honourable" instead your sentence would sound very different. Why do you think those rules dictate "oceanic patrician"? The only reason those rules would dictate a change of order is if the meaning of one of the words changed. Commented Jun 2 at 12:56
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    The 'Royal Order of Adjectives' is a rule of thumb, not a binding edict. 'Naughty little boy', yes, but 'bad big wolf'??? Sometimes mellifluence appears to trump the Royal Order. // However, here, both 'Noble Eightfold Path' and 'Eightfold Path' seem to be fixed phrases (as 'big bad wolf' certainly is), and tinkering with the order would sound outlandish. But 'patrician octadic way' sounds outlandish whatever the order. Commented Jun 2 at 13:45
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    @EdwinAshworth Or your brain is processing patrician as an attributive noun, not an adjective, and that pushes it to immediately before the head-noun in a noun-phrase, past the earlier adjectives.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 2 at 18:55
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    Where do you get the ordering of "octadic patrician way" from? Why are you certain that's the correct English translation? It doesn't seem to be a common English phrase, and it may not be a good translation, and its order may well reflect that in Pali or Tibetan or whatever.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 2 at 21:44
  • 2
    @Claudiu That might just be your ears. "Patrician octadic way" sounds fine to me; "octadic patrician way" sounds awkward but acceptable.
    – alphabet
    Commented Jun 3 at 1:05

2 Answers 2


In the phrase "noble eightfold path", there's an implication that there may be multiple eightfold paths, but we're only referring to the noble one. So we put "noble" first because it's qualifying the phrase "eightfold path".

On the other hand, "eightfold noble path" implies that there are different noble paths, with varying number of aspects, and we're referring to the one with eight aspects.

If you think the order should be different when replacing words with they're ostensive synonyms, I think it's because you're not actually recognizing this structure of the original phrase. You think that both "noble" and "eightfold" modify "path", and therefore the order only needs to follow the default ordering based on categories of adjectives.

  • 1
    This is indeed an explanation of the order of adjectives in noble eightfold path, but its doesn't quite answer the OP's question of why the order would be different if each word in the phase is replaced with (what the OP, rightly or wrongly, regards as its) synonym. If the words in the OP's reformulation really are synonyms, the reasoning outlined here would apply to them, and we would expect the order to be the same, unless some other considerations override it.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jun 3 at 17:03
  • How were you able to conclude that "noble" modifies "eightfold path" rather than "noble" & "eightfold" both modifying "path"? The original Pali is "ariya-aṭṭhaṅgika-magga" -- unfortunately I don't know enough Pali grammar to attest to the structure of the original phrase
    – Claudiu
    Commented Jun 4 at 11:43
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    Mostly because of the lack of a comma separating the adjectives, which is how we often write independent qualities.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 4 at 16:16

I commented:

That might just be your ears. "Patrician octadic way" sounds fine to me; "octadic patrician way" sounds awkward but acceptable.

We don't have a way of taking polls here, nor are we a representative sample, but I suspect I'm in the majority. I'm not sure we can explain why the OP specifically has these intuitions rather than the more consistent ones.

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