comma with adjective: her comfortable, cushy white leather couch

Rabelaisian

Senior Member
English - Canadian
I'm trying to get a handle on adjective commas, trying my darndest to make sure I'm not superfluous and awkward with them, and am really re-thinking past things that I've written. Take this for example:

She is lying on her very comfortable, cushy, white, leather couch.

If all it said was "She is lying on her white leather couch," I would put no comma at all. However, there are four adjectives in that list, not just two, so I figured, for purposes of pacing and, most importantly, the context of the scene and the ambiance I'm trying to achieve, that I'd emphasize each of the four describing words equally, so, as you can see, I put a comma between all of them. Is that okay, though? How would it look in your opinion with only a comma after comfortable (like so)?

She is lying on her very comfortable, cushy white leather couch.

Is that better, despite what the rest of the scene might be like? Is one more correct than the other?

Thanks for your help.
 
  • EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I'm not happy with either version. I'd make use of 'and':

    She is lying on her very comfortable and cushy white leather couch.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Leather is a noun, not an adjective, and the comma convention only applies to true adjectives (or adjective phrases), not to attributive nouns. So that reduces it to three adjectives. Also, the rule convention only applies to adjectives at an equal level. It is arguable whether white describes the leather or the couch. Consider an adjective that only applied to the leather, such as fake. Then you would write:

    her very comfortable, cushy fake leather couch

    Here it isn't being qualified by three adjectives comfortable, cushy, fake, but by two, comfortable, cushy with a comma between them, and a noun phrase fake leather. Cushy and fake are at different levels so don't get a dividing comma: compare a small real estate office; an elegant white gold ring. It feels to me that white leather goes together like this in your original: it is primarily the leather that is white, so it's not at the same level as the other two adjectives. Thus in the end I'd go for:

    her very comfortable, cushy white leather couch

    How do you say it? There would be a fall-rise tone on listed adjectives (\/com-fortable, \/cush-y) but if white leather was one phrase it would have a single intonation, with the tone on leather but not white (\/com-fortable, \/cush-y white \/leath-er). But if you consider white a separate modifier of the couch, you'd give that a tone too. If so, put a comma before it too. If you actually do want to emphasize all four words equally, that would be an unusual intonation, but may justify commas between all of them if they're needed to convey that special intonation. Ordinarily, as an unemphatic description, you wouldn't need them all.
     

    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    "Leather" is a noun, but here it is acting as a modifier. Some people would therefore classify it as an adjective, and that's a legitimate way to consider it as well. However, considering it a noun helps here because it makes clearer where you need a comma and where you don't. To me "leather couch" is a noun phrase modified by "comfortable," "cushy" and "white." That tells me that not only is a comma unnecessary between "white" and "leather," but it is actually incorrect.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I definitely wouldn't put a comma between "white" and "leather" - we're talking about something made out of "white leather," not something that's "white" and coincidentally is also "leather." But I would put a comma before white:
    She is lying on her very comfortable, cushy, white leather couch.
    As an editor, I tend to prefer commas. But when I say this I feel that I pause just as much before "cushy" as I do after "cushy." Also, I read "white leather" as modifying "couch" along with "very comfortable" and "cushy"; I don't read "white leather couch" as a noun phrase being modified by "very comfortable" and "cushy."
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    ^ :thumbsup: She is lying on her [very comfortable], [cushy], [white leather] couch. discrete ideas have commas.
     

    joce

    Member
    France / French
    I'll build on this thread for a generic question on commas between adjectives: for unrelated adjectives of the same level, do you always use a comma? I have had non-native readers have problems reading my text (scientific paper) when putting a comma they didn't expect. Examples are:
    the initial, instantaneous change of slope.
    a tractable, four-parameter model.
    this energy-consuming, active feature
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I would not use a comma in your second example phrase.

    Perhaps this advice offered by Lynn Truss in Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (2003) may be of some help:
    In a list of adjectives, again the rule is that you use a comma where an and would be appropriate – where the modifying words are all modifying the same thing to the same degree:

    It was a dark, stormy night. (The night was dark and stormy)
    He was a tall, bearded man.
    (The man was tall and bearded)

    But you do NOT use a comma for:

    It was an endangered white rhino.
    Australian red wines are better than Australian white ones.
    The grand old Duke of York had ten thousand men.


    This is because, in each of these cases, the adjectives do their jobs in joyful combination; they are not intended as a list.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    the initial, instantaneous change of slope.
    a tractable, four-parameter model.
    this energy-consuming, active feature
    More information and context is necessary. My suspicion, for instance, is that "the initial, instantaneous change of slope" should be written "the instantaneous initial change of slope." (I think it might be "the initial change of slope" - one unit - that is also "instantaneous.")
     

    joce

    Member
    France / French
    More information and context is necessary. My suspicion, for instance, is that "the initial, instantaneous change of slope" should be written "the instantaneous initial change of slope." (I think it might be "the initial change of slope" - one unit - that is also "instantaneous.")
    You're correct that the context gives the order of the adjectives: I am comparing an initial change to a longer term change (which is not instantaneous, but this is discussed earlier). Thus 'initial' comes first. The actual text is quite technical, I'd rather not post it.

    Anyway, the book extract brought in by EStjarn answers my question: I am not making lists of characteristics, I am defining accurately a technical feature, my adjectives "joyfully work together" (at least that's the intention). Thanks.
     

    Ceibita

    Member
    English USA; Spanish HN
    "Instantaneous change of slope" is talking about a derivative in calculus, right? I would write that as the "initial instantaneous change in slope", no commas. Or just say "initial instantaneous rate of change".
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I will just add Bryan Garner's view on this (from Garner's Modern American Usage, 2009, p. 19):
    When two adjectives modifying the same noun are related in sense, they should be separated by a comma (or else and). Thus, we say a big, sprawling house and a poignant, uplifting film. But when the consecutive adjectives are unrelated, there shouldn't be a comma—hence a big white house and a poignant foreign film.
    What he means by "related in sense" can be inferred from the next paragraph in the book. If we take, for example, a poignant, uplifting film, is the fact that the film is poignant related to the fact that it is uplifting? If so, the comma is proper; if not, the comma is improper. Compare with a big white house: is the fact that the house is big related to the fact that it is white? Most likely not. Hence, no comma.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I agree with the principle expressed by Garner, but I understand 'related' as 'belonging to the same category'.
    'Poignant' and 'uplifting' are related because they are both terms of emotion.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I'm not sure whether you disagree with my interpretation of Garner or with Garner himself in the mentioned respect. In case it is the former, I don't think we can infer from what Garner says in the text that the meaning of "related" is as you propose. When analyzing the need for a comma between "brief" and "unsigned" in
    .
    The brief, unsigned Supreme Court opinion said that the lawyers for Ms. Benten had failed to show a substantial likelihood that the case would be won if it were argued before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
    .
    he says: "Is the fact that the opinion is brief related to the fact that it is unsigned? If so, the comma is proper; if not, the comma is improper." (Incidentally, he finds that both options are conceivable depending on context.)

    In the previous post I was using his exact wording for some other, more accessible example phrases, which ought to be permissible without spoiling his point.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I'm not sure whether you disagree with my interpretation of Garner or with Garner himself in the mentioned respect.
    I used the quotation from Garner as an opportunity to express my own long-held view. The meaning 'belonging to the same category' strikes me as the correct way to understand the word 'related' both in the former quotation from Garner and in this one:
    Is the fact that the opinion is brief related to the fact that it is unsigned? If so, the comma is proper; if not, the comma is improper.
    If further context were to show that that is not Garner's meaning, then I would be disagreeing with him.
    So far, it seems to me I am agreeing with him.
     
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