Commas with Adjectives

The Rule*:

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

Examples:

Greg stuffed the slim, geeky boy in his locker. ==> Use a comma between slim and geeky as they are each separately describing the noun.

The bright red fire truck crashed into Greg’s house. ==>Do not use a comma between bright, red, and fire as they are working together to describe the noun.

TIP:

If you can reverse the order of the adjectives or put the word “and” between them, they are coordinate, and you need a comma.

  • You could say, “Greg stuffed the geeky, slim boy . . . ”
    You could also also say, “Greg stuffed the slim and geeky boy . . .”

So since you can reverse the order and you can put the word “and” between them, they are coordinate.

  • You cannot say, “The fire red bright truck . . . “
  • You cannot say, “The bright and red and fire truck . . . “

So since you cannot reverse the order or put the word “and” between them, they are cumulative.

Practice:

  1.  The former overweight woman fit into her new colorful polka-dot bikini.
  2.  On this cold cloudy day, I wore my warm fluffy jacket.
  3.  That wonderful old French car belonged to my smart flamboyant Grandma.


Answers:

  1.  The former (no comma) overweight woman fit into her new (no comma) colorful (no comma) polka-dot bikini.
  2.  On this cold, cloudy day, I wore my warm, fluffy jacket.
  3.  That wonderful (no comma) old (no comma) French car belonged to my smart, flamboyant Grandma.

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