Posted by: episystechpubs | February 18, 2014

Editor’s Corner: Commas, adjectives, and some crazy rules

I hope you all enjoyed the extra day off! Now that you are super-charged with extra energy, let’s try to find our way through the next few comma rules. It’s understandable why people get confused—I don’t know if there are this many rules for other punctuation marks. Here’s today’s rule, which is a three-parter, from the Purdue OWL.

· DO use commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun.

· DO NOT add an extra comma between the final adjective and the noun itself.

· DO NOT use commas with non-coordinate adjectives.

Coordinate adjectives are adjectives with equal status in describing the noun; neither adjective is subordinate to the other. You can decide if two adjectives in a row are coordinate by asking the following questions:

· Does the sentence make sense if the adjectives are written in reverse order?

· Does the sentence make sense if the adjectives are written with and between them?

If you answer yes to these questions, then the adjectives are coordinate and should be separated by a comma. Here are some examples of coordinate and non-coordinate adjectives:

He was a difficult, stubborn child. (coordinate)

They lived in a white frame house. (non-coordinate)

She often wore a gray wool shawl. (non-coordinate)

Your cousin has an easy, happy smile. (coordinate)

There’s actually a hierarchy of adjectives when describing a noun. This is referred to as the cumulative order of adjectives. The order, type of adjective, and an example of each appears below. These would not be separated by commas since they are not coordinate adjectives.

Order Adjective Type Example
1 articles

demonstrative pronouns


a, an, the

this, that

his, yours, Gumby’s

2 quantity


some, few

three, fifty, five hundred

3 opinion pretty, handsome, stupid, cheap, happy, cheerful
4 appearance size: huge, small, tiny

shape: circular, square, long, short

condition: broken, new, wet, snowy

5 age


old, new, young

purple, blue, green, aqua

6 nationality


Chilean, Greek, Irish

Buddhist, Jewish, Christian

7 material


silk, lead, silver, bamboo

sledding, reading, digging


Thirty handsome young Greek men met our cruise ship.

A large black umbrella was the only thing that remained of Mary Poppins.

The plumber found an old lead pipe underneath our house.


A Christian young huge man rang our doorbell.

Digging good new shovel was used to dig up the plant.

Silken aqua Pokey’s boot was found at the scene of the crime.

Kara Church

Senior Technical Editor

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

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  1. […] You can combine descriptive adjectives, though there are rules about when to use and when not to use commas. More on that later. If you can’t wait, we did cover it in the past here: […]

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