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Started March 08, 2012 - 09:19 AM



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A comma between two compound adjectives modifying a noun

Do I need a comma between two compound adjectives modifying a noun? For example: This professional-grade saucepot has a patented ceramic-titanium non-stick surface. Do I need a comma between "titanium" and "non"?

#2 timothyjrbaker Replied March 08, 2012 - 01:22 PM



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in this particular case, the sentence "This professional-grade saucepot has a patented ceramic-titanium non stick surface," is all one clause, so a comma would isolate the subject (saucepot) and separate the saucepot from its surface.

#3 redwildsparkles Replied March 08, 2012 - 03:35 PM


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I disagree with Timothy. Commas are frequently used to separate adjectives that apply to the same noun: "The curious, fearful mouse," or "the buzzing, shaking machinery." This construction does not, in any way, isolate the subject.

Bottom line: You need the comma. Here's why...

To decide whether you need a comma between two adjectives, figure out whether the two adjectives are "coordinate," which basically means "equally important in describing the noun." If they are coordinate, you need a comma. If they're not coordinate, then no comma.

For example, if you were discussing a "large Colonial house," you don't need a comma. Colonial is more important, because it defines the intrinsic type of house, whereas large just describes its size. Same for a "long silk dress"; silk is the type of dress, whereas long describes a feature. But an "independent, happy-go-lucky spirit" needs the comma, because both adjectives describe the spirit equally.

It's very difficult to figure out coordination by assessing which seems more important. Luckily, there's two very simple tests you can apply.

Test #1: If you reverse the adjectives, does it sound equally as natural? (And does it mean exactly the same thing?) If you can reverse them, they're coordinate (and you need the comma); if you can't reverse them, they're not coordinate (and you don't need the comma).

"A happy-go-lucky, independent spirit." Makes sense: So, coordinate.

"A Colonial large house." Sounds weird; not coordinate.

"A silk long dress." Not quite the same as the original version; not coordinate.

Test #2: Add the word "and" between the two adjectives. If it works, coordinate (& comma); if it doesn't, not coordinate (& no comma).

"A happy-go-lucky and independent spirit." Coordinate

"A large and Colonial house." Not coordinate

"A long and silk dress." Not coordinate

Testing your sentence:

"A non-stick, ceramic-titanium surface." Works! It still means the same thing, and sounds just as natural.

"A ceramic-titanium and non-stick surface." Also works.

These two adjectives are definitely coordinate; you should insert a comma. Also, because they're long and bulky, the commas help the sentence flow a bit better.

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