comma btw adjective and attributive noun: candle-lit, concrete walls

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Rabelaisian, Feb 6, 2013.

  1. Rabelaisian Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    English - Canadian
    They were sitting in a room with candle-lit, concrete walls.

    Is that comma permissible, or does "concrete walls" have to be the noun phrase instead of just "walls"? Please note that if it were "...grey concrete walls," I would certainly not put a comma, because that would follow the conventional order, i.e., colour and then material. But, in this case, "candle-lit" is a compound adjective that doesn't fit into any of the categories of the conventional order of adjectives. Plus, I find the comma separation adds to the ominous feeling of the room that I want, by making "concrete" stand on its own in describing the walls. What do you guys think?

  2. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    With commas, there are cases - many, many, many cases, actually - in which there is no right or wrong answer. This is one such case. If concrete walls is, in the writer's mind, a noun phrase, then you don't need the comma. If it isn't, you do. I'm afraid it's just that ambiguous. For what it's worth, I like the comma, too, but there's no rule that will determine whether it belongs there or not. Writer's choice!

    In the case of grey concrete walls, I wouldn't use a comma either, but that's because it seems to me that grey is modifying concrete, not walls. This is open to interpretation as well, naturally.
  3. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    I agree with your comma generally. Concrete is grey so your reasoning is starting from a shaky place - the walls are grey because they're made of grey concrete or are they made of concrete and painted grey so the comma is right either way. "Candle-lit walls" is a confusing image to me - the candles must be inside the walls. We don't light walls with candles. We light the room.
  4. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    I agree with this. The most natural sentence would be "They were sitting in a candle-lit room with concrete walls." But there is such a thing as hypallage...

    This is an optional comma, in my opinion. Do you imagine the narrator pausing between candle-lit and concrete, or do you imagine the narrator saying the end of the sentence straight through with no pause? If you hear a pause, add a comma, etc.
  5. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    I actually much prefer candle-lit, concrete walls to a candle-lit room with concrete walls. And I'd definitely include the comma. The former may be a clue as to why fiction writers seem to have a generally negative attitude toward my copyediting. :( "You don't write fiction; what 'a you know?!"

    Since I had to look up hypallage :rolleyes: , let me ask if the example here is more specifically an instance of transferred epithet, one type of hypallage.
  6. Rabelaisian Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    English - Canadian
    In my mind, the candles are standing on candle holders that are either standing up against the walls, or in holders that are actually attached to the walls themselves. I've seen both. The walls are, therefore, much more brightly lit than the people in the centre of the room, sitting around a table.

    Thanks for the comma clarification.
  7. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    While that's true, the purpose of the candles is not of making the wall visible but of providing light for the room even if they do a poor job. This is particularly true of a plain, grey concrete wall. A candle-lit tapestry, a candle-lit painting, perhaps, but a candle-lit wall? I'm not kidding at all when I say that I would find that sentence quite annoying if I read it in a book.

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