28 Apr 2010
A comma should be used to separate two or more co-ordinate adjectives that describe the same noun.
Or to put it more simply, if you’re using two similar words to describe a thing, person, place, animal or idea you should use a comma to separate them.
She worked in a happy, relaxed office.
He pointed to the big, tall guy in the gym.
Her boss was a strong, confident woman.
The easiest way to test if the two adjectives are similar is to reverse their order or stick an And inbetween them.
She worked in a happy and relaxed office. She worked in a relaxed, happy office.
He pointed to the tall and big guy in the gym. He pointed to the big, tall guy in the gym.
Her boss was a strong and confident woman. Her boss was a confident, strong woman.
Yep, they all work. Which means they’re all co-ordinating adjectives and need a comma between them.
Now use the same the rule to spot non co-ordinating adjectives.
He wore his blue cotton shirt to the office.
It was a stripy football jersey.
The extensive briefing document was nearly finished.
If we swapped them round or added an And we’d get:
He wore his cotton blue shirt to the office.
It was a stripy and football jersey.
The briefing extensive document was nearly finished.
Nope. These don’t work. So no comma.
As a general rule, adjectives of size come first, followed by adjectives of age, shape, colour, material, origin and purpose.
Blue cotton shirt.
Tall, young guy in accounts.
New French film.