A weekly grammar tip created by Academic Center Peer Writing Tutors.
University of Houston-Victoria
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Using Commas with
Multiple Descriptive Adjectives
Descriptive adjectives are frequently used before nouns. In fact, more than one descriptive adjective may be used before a noun. Confusion generally arises when the comma enters the picture. Let’s take a look at some examples:
The new college students moved into their dorms.
She is an intelligent, productive student.
Many readers will find themselves asking “Why is a comma used between the two adjectives in the second example but not in the first?”
The answer is that using of the comma depends upon the class of the adjective. Overall, there are five classes of descriptive adjectives: general, age, color, material and origin. The classes of adjectives generally appear in the same order in a sentence as they do in the table below. Also note that most descriptive adjectives fall into the “general” category.
If each adjective used in a sentence is from a different class, then a comma is not needed. However, if two (or more) of the adjectives are from the same class, then a comma must be used in between them. In the examples near the beginning of this grammar tip, new and college are from different classes of adjectives, while intelligent and productive are both from the same class.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
The chatty brunette woman was a favorable companion.
The rusty, broken nail was lodged in my tire.
Because “chatty” and “brunette” fall into different categories of adjectives, a comma is not needed. However, “rusty” and “broken” are both general adjectives, so a comma is required.
There is a test to determine whether a comma is needed in between two adjectives. First, determine which words in the sentence are adjectives. Then, determine if the order of the descriptive adjectives can be reversed. If the adjectives can be reversed and still make sense, they are from the same category and a comma must be placed between them. However, if the adjectives cannot be reversed without the sentence sounding awkward, then the adjectives are from different categories, so the comma is unnecessary.
The brunette chatty woman was a favorable companion.
[The adjectives seem awkward when their order is reversed, so they are from different categories. The comma is not needed.]
The broken, rusty nail was lodged in my tire.
[The adjectives can be reversed, so they are from the same category. The comma is needed.]
Adjective (n) a word that describes a noun or pronoun, such as “black” in the sentence “She wore a black hat.”
Definition adapted from The Longman Advanced Dictionary of American English.
|Recommended Grammar Website of the
by Candice Chovanec Melzow
Along with our website, we recommend Lynchburg College’s “Eight Areas of Comma Etiquette” page at http://www.lynchburg.edu/writcntr/guide/grammar/comma.htm. This page provides a brief summary of the most common comma rules, complete with examples.
|Test Your Knowledge|
by Candice Chovanec Melzow
Determine whether the following sentences need a comma in between the adjectives. If the sentence is correct as is, place a “C” by it.
1. The thin cotton dress was a cool alternative to the wool suit.
2. The large, black spots made the bird look like a Dalmatian.
3. James insisted on wearing his smelly, old shoes to the marathon.
4. The beautiful wealthy woman was an avid tennis player.
5. We devoured the decadent fudge dessert in ten minutes.
1. The thin cotton dress was a cool alternative to the wool suit. C
2. The large black spots made the bird look like a Dalmatian.
3. James insisted on wearing his smelly old shoes to the marathon.
4. The beautiful, wealthy woman was an avid tennis player.
5. We devoured the decadent fudge dessert in ten minutes. C
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