comma with adjective: her comfortable, cushy white leather couch

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Rabelaisian, Jan 17, 2013.

  1. Rabelaisian Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    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.
  2. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    I definitely prefer your second version. In my opinion, only the one comma is necessary.
  3. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    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.
  4. entangledbank

    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.
  5. Rabelaisian Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    English - Canadian
    I used to think so too, until I went to and they have it defined for being both a noun and an adjective.

    Thank you so much for that very detailed answer, though! It really helped me put all of this into proper perspective!
  6. JustKate

    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.
  7. 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:
    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."
  8. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

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

    Cambridge, GB
    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
  10. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    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:
  11. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    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.")
  12. joce Member

    Cambridge, GB
    France / French
    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.
  13. 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".
  14. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    I will just add Bryan Garner's view on this (from Garner's Modern American Usage, 2009, p. 19):
    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.
  15. wandle

    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.
  16. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    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.
  17. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    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:
    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.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2015

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