Comma (with coordinate adjectives)

Okay, folks. It’s time to tackle when and why to use the comma–and when and why not to use it.

I may as well jump right in with coordinate adjectives, “a pair or series of adjectives” about which the Copyeditor’s Handbook author Amy Einsohn writes:

In principle, coordinate adjectives are those that equally and independently modify a noun, and their coordinate status is marked by the presence of either the word and or a comma in between them.

Here’s an example:

They live off the grid in a remote, peaceful location.

The adjectives “remote” and “peaceful” are coordinate because they pass two tests: the sentence is still sensible (1) if you place and between them, and (2) if you reverse their order.

They live off the grid in a remote and peaceful location.

They live off the grid in a peaceful, remote location.

By contrast, it seems to me that most of the pairs of adjectives that are treated as coordinate in the sentences below don’t qualify as coordinate:

He had wavy, sun-bleached hair, a mouth too ripe for his short, upturned nose, and freckles, lots of them. (not qualified: wavy and sun-bleached hair; short and upturned nose)

She wore a loose, leopard-print sweater with the sleeves pushed up, black Capri pants, and high, backless heels with open toes. (not qualified: loose and leopard-print sweater; high and backless heels)

He picked up a tarnished, silver-plated table lighter and clicked the wheel. (not qualified: tarnished and silver-plated table lighter)

I would punctuate these sentences as follows:

He had wavy sun-bleached hair, a mouth too ripe for his short upturned nose, and freckles, lots of them.

She wore a loose leopard-print sweater with the sleeves pushed up, black Capri pants, and high backless heels with open toes.

He picked up a tarnished silver-plated table lighter and clicked the wheel.

Any thoughts?

Cheers,

Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio

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About 123clear

I translate foggy information into plain English.
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