Use a comma in between coordinate adjectives; do not use one in between cumulative adjectives.
*I use the term “rule”; however, please know that they are more like guidelines, and once you know and understand this rule, you may chose to break it to create an intentional effect.
Terms to Know:
Coordinate adjectives: adjectives that work separately to describe a noun
Cumulative adjectives: adjectives that work together to describe a noun
The are coordinate adjectives because you can put and between them and switch up the order:
She was a beautiful, gentle woman.
- You could say beautiful and gentle. You could say gentle, beautiful. It passes the tests, so they are coordinate and need a comma between them.
These are cumulative adjectives because they are working together to describe the noun:
They had high expectations of the nearby new Irish couple.
- You couldn’t say nearby and new and Irish. You couldn’t switch the order and say Irish nearby new. It doesn’t pass the tests, so these are cumulative adjectives and do not take a comma between them.
- The spoiled fat cats found the garden full of cool dark
- Did you hear about Grandpa Charlie’s long crazy trip on the coast of Italy?
- The city was ablaze for fourteen city
- The three furry Russian blue cats jumped up on the tower.
- Across the fence, Mr. Snucker saw an overgrown wild unruly yard.
- Did you read about his short unhappy life?
- It was a dark silent empty room.
- The dark red dress was her favorite.
- The brown-haired blue-eyed girl bought some mouth-watering peanut butter cookies.
- That wonderful old French car belonged to my smart flamboyant Grandma.
- The spoiled, fat cats found the garden full of cool, dark
- Did you hear about Grandpa Charlie’s long, crazy trip on the coast of Italy?
- The city was ablaze for fourteen (no comma) city.
- The three (no comma) furry (no comma) Russian blue cats jumped up on the tower.
- Across the fence, Mr. Snucker saw an overgrown, wild, unruly yard.
- Did you read about his short, unhappy life?
- It was a dark, silent, empty room.
- The dark (no comma) red dress was her favorite.
- The brown-haired, blue-eyed girl bought some mouth-watering(no comma) peanut butter cookies.
- That wonderful (no comma) old (no comma) French car belonged to my smart, flamboyant Grandma.
Katie Chambers, owner of Beacon Point, is a nonfiction and fiction substantive (developmental) editor and copy editor for independent authors; content writer and editor for business professionals; and online teacher and tutor.
As an editor, she acts as a beacon by building partnerships with authors and encouraging them.
She loves books and believes they have the power to transform lives. And as such, she wants to ensure that nothing stands in the way of an author’s message or story by reducing errors and strengthening their writing and plot and character development.
Visit her business website, follow or chat with her on Twitter at, or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
If you’re an author, take a look at my writing resources page to access free resources for you.