A weekly grammar tip created by Academic Center Peer Writing Tutors.
University of Houston-Victoria
3007 N. Ben Wilson
Victoria, TX 77901
|Punctuating Adjective Series
by Sophia Stevens
Adjectives and adjective series (two or more adjectives) are often used to make our sentences more descriptive, but sometimes it can be difficult to know when to punctuate adjective series. When two or more adjectives come before a noun, it is important to remember when a comma should be included or omitted. First, let’s look at the elements of a noun phrase.
A noun phrase can include a number of words. The most common combination is (Determiner) + (Adjective) + Headword.
Determiners can be articles or possessive nouns or pronouns: a, an, the, John's, my, your, his, her, its
Adjectives come before the nouns they modify: tight-lipped, hilarious, red, stretchy
Headwords are simply the primary noun or nouns (people, places, or objects) of the phrase: boat, cloud, child, paper, musician
Now that we know the elements of a noun phrase, let’s talk more about adjectives. There’s no limit to the number of adjectives that can come before a noun. So how do we know when to place a comma in between the adjectives or to leave it out? For an adjective series, several rules can remind us of the punctuation required for each possible adjective combination.
Do not use a comma for an adjective series in which one of the adjectives is a noun form.
Ex. I bought Scooby a new dog toy to replace his old bone.
(Here a word that is a noun in form--dog--is put to use as an adjective.)
Do not use a comma when an adjective is modified by another word (an adverb).
Ex. Today, Detroit is expected to have particularly inclement weather.
(Here, particularly is an adverb that modifies inclement, not weather.)
Use a comma in between adjectives when it is possible to use and.
Ex. The New York Times critic called it “a profound, controversial, compelling novel.”
The phrase could have alternately been “a profound and controversial and compelling novel.”
Also notice that the adjectives can be rearranged and the phrase will still have the same meaning.
Attention UHV Students
Win a $500 scholarship by entering UHV's first annual multimedia and essay scholarship competitions to be held in celebration of United States Constitution Day. Submissions will not be accepted after 5 p.m. on September 10th.
Scholarships will be awarded on September 17th. For guidelines and necessary forms, visit the
|Recommended Grammar Website of the Week
by Sophia Stevens
In addition to our website, we recommend http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000072.htm for a review of examples that will help you recognize adjective series and decide when or when not to use a comma.
|Test Your Knowledge
by Sophia Stevens
Test your knowledge of punctuation in adjective series by correctly placing commas in the following sentences. If the sentence is correct, mark C.
1. The dog was actually nothing more than a common scruffy mixed-breed.
2. The holidays are always a time of hectic stressful schedules.
3. Could you please pick up some canned cat food on your way home from work?
1. The dog was actually nothing more than a common, scruffy mixed-breed.
2. The holidays are always a time of hectic, stressful schedules.
3. Could you please pick up some canned cat food on your way home from work? C
Comments about this newsletter should be directed to Summer Leibensperger, email@example.com.