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:

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.

.

TIP:

To help you identify if you have coordinate adjectives, see if the adjectives pass two tests:

  • Can you put the word and between them?
  • Can you switch up the order of the adjectives without changing the meaning?

Greg stuffed the slim, geeky boy in his locker.

  • You could say Greg stuffed the slim and geeky boy in his locker.
  • You could reverse the order and say Greg stuffed the geeky, slim boy in his locker.

The bright red fire truck crashed into Greg’s house.

  • 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 spoiled fat cats found the garden full of cool dark
  2. Did you hear about Grandpa Charlie’s long crazy trip on the coast of Italy?
  3. The city was ablaze for fourteen city
  4. The three furry Russian blue cats jumped up on the tower.
  5. Across the fence, Mr. Snucker saw an overgrown wild unruly yard.
  6. Did you read about his short unhappy life?
  7. It was a dark silent empty room.
  8. The dark red dress was her favorite.
  9. The brown-haired blue-eyed girl bought some mouth-watering peanut butter cookies.
  10. That wonderful  old  French car belonged to my smart flamboyant Grandma.

 

 


Answers 

  1. The spoiled, fat cats found the garden full of cool, dark
  2. Did you hear about Grandpa Charlie’s long, crazy trip on the coast of Italy?
  3. The city was ablaze for fourteen (no comma) city.
  4. The three (no comma) furry (no comma) Russian blue cats jumped up on the tower.
  5. Across the fence, Mr. Snucker saw an overgrown, wild, unruly yard.
  6. Did you read about his short, unhappy life?
  7. It was a dark, silent, empty room.
  8. The dark (no comma) red dress was her favorite.
  9. The brown-haired, blue-eyed girl bought some mouth-watering(no comma) peanut butter cookies.
  10. That wonderful (no comma) old (no comma) French car belonged to my smart, flamboyant Grandma.

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