Sunday, January 02, 2011

Commas with Adjectives

Coordinate adjectives.

I know the rule to use a comma between words in a series. For example, When the child lost his marbles, his Matchbox cars, and his pet snake, the mother lost her marbles. Or Obama promised to pay for my groceries, my rent, and my utilities.

But there are adjectives that may not be equal in importance and therefore should not have commas ... because the words aren't really in a series. For example, The exuberant golden retriever chased the bone under the table. Or The lovely, fashionable Bethany picked up a Wisconsin accent this week. Or Some of the new LSB hymns we sang last year were very good. Or The decrepit, rattle-trap, slow-as-molasses computer makes me scream.

IF you can switch the order of the adjectives,
IF you can put an and between the adjectives,
THEN you use a comma. "The fashionable and lovely Bethany" or "the decrepit and rattle-trap computer."

But if you can't toss in an and, if you can't switch the order of the adjectives, then your words are not "coordinate adjectives" and ought not have the comma. The golden and exuberant retriever? The LSB and new hymns? Nope!

I usually have a good sense of how to employ the commas in these situations, but I've always been a little unsettled because I Learned The Rule in grade school and didn't learn the exceptions. So here's the qualifier for when the comma rule is and is not employed with multiple adjectives. And thus ends my grammar note to myself.