When to Add a Comma Between Two Adjectives

You should add a comma between two adjectives when they can be reordered. We avoid the use of comma if the adjectives cannot be rearranged.

You should add a comma between two adjectives when they can be reordered.

My sister is a confident, determined girl.

My sister is a confident determined girl.

We avoid the use of comma if the adjectives cannot be rearranged.

We explored an incredible Brazilian beach.

We explored a Brazilian incredible beach.

We explored an incredible, Brazilian beach.

1. How to Know If a Comma Is Needed

A way to determine if a comma is required between two adjectives is to mentally put the conjunction "and" between them. As a result:

  • If the sentence makes sense (even if you change the order of the adjectives), use a comma.
  • If the sentence doesn't seem correct, do not use a comma to separate the adjectives.

Example A

The bulky, large piano needs restoration.

The bulky large piano needs restoration.

We know that a comma is required in the example above because we can say "bulky and large" as well as "large and bulky".

Example B

She bought a small picnic table.

She bought a small, picnic table.

This sentence needs no comma because we cannot reorder the adjectives—we never say "a picnic small table".

Example C

The quiet, respectful students listened to the teacher.

The quiet respectful students listened to the teacher.

We need a comma because we can say "the quiet and respectful students" or "the respectful and quiet students".

Example D

I bought three small paintings.

I bought three, small paintings.

We leave out the comma in this sentence because we cannot rearrange the adjectives.

2. More Guidelines to Determine the Use of Commas with Adjectives

Noticing whether a particular order of adjectives sounds right or wrong is not always easy for a non-native speaker. The following tips may help you choose the right option.

Commas and colors

We also use commas between adjectives when using three or more colors to describe a noun.

I love your red, black and green dress.

The blue, white and red flag of France was adopted in 1790.

We do not add commas, however, when using two colors. In this case, we use the conjunction and without commas:

I bought a black and white T-shirt.

Synonyms

You can use two or more synonyms, or closely related words, to describe a noun. Since their order can usually be rearranged, you should place a comma between them.

This delicious, tasty dish was cooked by my father.

This delicious tasty dish was cooked by my father.

Another example:

Your daughter is a motivated, creative, imaginative, talented student!

Your daughter is a motivated creative imaginative talented student!

Opinion and fact adjectives

Look at these sentences:

The beautiful large house was built in 1747.

My sister prepared this delicious creamy mushroom pasta dish.

We can differentiate two types of adjectives:

  • Fact adjectives(large, creamy, mushroom, pasta in the examples above). Fact adjectives give us factual information about size, color, age, texture, etc.
  • Opinion adjectives(beautiful, delicious in the sentences above). Opinion adjectives tell us what someone thinks of somebody or something.

Generally, opinion adjectives go before factual adjectives in English. Therefore, they should not be rearranged.

I love that fantastic green car.

I love that green fantastic car.

In other words, you do not add a comma between adjectives in sentences like this.

Usually (but not always) we place fact adjectives in this order:

  1. size
  2. age
  3. color
  4. Where is it from?
  5. What is it made of?

We say:

  • a small metal screwdriver (1 and 5)
  • a tall 19-year-old Russian girl (1, 2, and 4)
  • large green Italian house (1, 3 and 4)

Pairing adjectives and nouns

Adjectives in English are placed in front of nouns. Consequently, we say "the young girl" (not "the girl young"). Sometimes, the adjective and the noun that follows become a unit (semantically speaking), as in:

The large computer desk is made of wood.

These wonderful Thai beaches are irresistible.

The order of the adjectives cannot be swapped in sentences like these.

Coordinate and cumulative adjectives

In grammar terms, we talk about coordinate and cumulative adjectives:

  • Coordinate adjectives are equally important, and its order is interchangeable.
  • Cumulative adjectives are not equally important. Therefore, they need to appear in a specific order.

Because they are equally important, we separate coordinate adjectives with commas.

3. More Examples

Using comma

  • I didn't enjoy the insipid, tasteless soup.
  • I hate dealing with these complicated, intricate problems.
  • She is a kind, wise woman.
  • The long, narrow path along the east bank invites you to explore and discover more.
  • The intelligent, talented young teacher solved the scientific problem.
  • Mary is a healthy, strong girl.
  • John is a resourceful, reliable boy.
  • He is an impertinent, difficult child who doesn't want to go to school.
  • Albert is a relaxed, calm person.
  • The mean, greedy, selfish man didn't want to help me.

Without comma

  • My brother bought an astonishing yellow car.
  • My girlfriend has a long black hair.
  • Her sister needed a large computer desk, so she bought it this morning.
  • My friend is a tall German guy who can speak five languages.
  • Try this delicious big hamburger.
  • I didn't enjoy the first two years of college: bad roommates, bad classes, bad relationships, etc.
  • She'll be on vacation for the next few weeks.
  • My parents live in a small blue house down the street.
  • My uncle has a huge pear tree.
  • She bought one of those small laptop computers with a built-in camera.

4. Conclusion

Deciding whether to place a comma between two adjectives is not always easy for non-native speakers. This strategy, however, will help you punctuate them correctly:

  1. Place a comma if reordering the adjectives of the sentence seems correct.
  2. If you are still not sure whether to put a comma:
    • Add a comma between two adjectives when:
      • using three or more colors (e.g., "blue, green and black skirt"), or
      • using synonyms (e.g., "talented, intelligent student")
    • Avoid using comma when:
      • combining opinion and fact adjectives (e.g., "beautiful young girl"), or
      • an adjective and a noun become a unit. For example, "laptop computer" can be considered a single unit. Therefore, we say "light laptop computer" (without comma).
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