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comma with adjective: She is wearing a short tight dress.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Rabelaisian, Jan 20, 2013.

  1. Rabelaisian Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    English - Canadian
    Hello. Does this make sense? I feel a comma belongs in statements like, "She had long, curly hair" and "She held a long, straight dagger in her hands" (given that in both examples the adjectives are equals in the conventional category of length and shape), but I don't feel a comma is needed in "She is wearing a short tight dress," because to me "tight dress" seems like the head noun in that one.

    Is that consistent, though, or is it that the commas are superfluous in the first two examples?

    Thanks.
     
  2. JuanEscritor

    JuanEscritor Senior Member

    Minnesota
    English - AE
    A comma is needed, at least for me. I don't see tight dress as a single noun like I do White House or sea lion or Big Man.

    JE
     
  3. Rabelaisian Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    English - Canadian
    Oh, interesting, so you think all three need a comma. Would you put commas between the adjectives of long straight blonde hair?
     
  4. JuanEscritor

    JuanEscritor Senior Member

    Minnesota
    English - AE
    Probably not because I don't see all of them as separate adjectives. I see straight blonde as a single adjective—it receives stress on its first element with the second element being understressed relative to the other adjectives and compared to what it would be stressed were it an independent adjective. So I would probably just put a comma after long.

    A style guide may disagree with me, and were I writing something for a meaningful audience, I might have to follow with different standards.

    JE
     
  5. Rabelaisian Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    English - Canadian
    How can "straight blonde" be a single adjective? I know "light blonde" or "medium blonde" would be, but its "straightness" and colour are two completely different categories of description.
     
  6. JuanEscritor

    JuanEscritor Senior Member

    Minnesota
    English - AE
    It is what it is. That's how I do it.
     
  7. Einstein

    Einstein Senior Member

    Milano, Italia
    UK, English
    I'm coming in very late here, but I've just come across this section of the forum.
    I've developed a criterion which seems to work. To understand whether adjectives are equivalents in a list I try putting them after the noun.

    I'd write "she's wearing a short, tight dress" because we can say "her dress is short and tight".
    I would not put a comma in "she's wearing a short Italian dress" because "short" and "Italian" are not equivalent qualities; we might say "her short dress is Italian" or "her Italian dress is short", but we are unlikely to say "her dress is short and Italian".

    I don't see how "straight blonde" can be a single adjective. "Medium blonde", yes, because "medium" qualifies "blonde", not "hair". "Straight" on the other hand applies to the hair, not the colour.
     
  8. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Yes. 'Short and Italian' is incongruous because the words belong to different categories.
     

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