LawProse Lesson #143: When should you use a comma between two adjectives?

LawProse Lesson #143: When should you use a comma between two adjectives?

When should you use a comma between two adjectives? Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives — adjectives that qualify a noun in the same way {a long, complex trial}. To test whether the modifiers are coordinate, either (1) reverse their order, keeping the comma {a complex, long trial}, or (2) add and between them {a long and complex trial}. Is the meaning clear and natural-sounding either way? If it is, use a comma. Don’t use a comma if the adjectives qualify the noun in different ways {a cold fall day [you’d never say “a fall cold day” or “a cold and fall day”]} or if the first adjective modifies a unit formed by the second adjective and noun {a distinguished law professor [what is “a law distinguished professor” or “a distinguished and law professor”?]}. Here are a few more examples: Coordinate: Ex.: He was a timid, shy witness. Ex.: The smart, modest lawyer filed a short, effective motion. Noncoordinate: Ex.: Don’t step on my blue suede shoes. Ex.: She drove her big black truck to the popular county fair. When you’re unsure, it’s worth taking a few seconds to test your modifiers. You don’t want to appear grammatically uncoordinated. Sources: Garner’s Modern American Usage 677 (3d ed. 2009). Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 731 (3d ed. 2011). The Chicago Manual of Style § 5.90, at 227, § 6.33, at 318 (16th ed. 2010). The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style § 1.7, at 7-8 (3d ed. 2013). Thanks to W. David Wallace for suggesting this topic.

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