Punctuation Review #1: Commas with Adjectives
Sometimes writers are not sure about where to put commas in a list of adjectives.
They visited a beautiful, elaborate mansion.
They visited a beautiful Victorian mansion.
The adjectives in the first sentence are separated by a comma because they are coordinate adjectives. They’re “coordinate” because they are equal in the way they describe the noun mansion.
The adjectives in the second sentence are not separated by a comma because they are not equal. They are “cumulative adjectives.” The adjective Victorian forms a unit with the noun mansion. The word beautiful describes “Victorian mansion.”
One way to determine whether a comma is needed is to replace it with the word and; if the sentence still makes sense, the comma is needed:
They visited a beautiful and elaborate mansion. (comma needed)
They visited a beautiful and Victorian mansion. (doesn’t make sense; no comma needed)
Another test is to reverse the order of the adjectives. If the sentence still makes sense when the adjectives are reversed, they are coordinate:
They visited an elaborate, beautiful mansion. (makes sense)
They visited a Victorian beautiful mansion. (does not make sense)
Here are some more examples for comparison:
She likes to read suspenseful mystery novels.
The queen wore a long silk gown.
The explorers suffered under a blazing, relentless desert sun
He grew up in a red brick house.
The school is noted for producing happy, relaxed, and well-behaved children.
When an adjective is repeated for effect, a comma separates the repeated word:
Many, many children are born to incompetent parents.
There is never a comma between the last adjective and the noun modified.
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