the long, cold winter (see? only one comma)

I’ve been seeing comma issues lately and I need to write about them.

Up there in the title, “long” and “cold” are what’s called “coordinate adjectives.” They modify the same noun (“winter,” in this case), so they’re coordinating their work. (Make sense? Good. Onward.)

Right here I’m going to say that this post is NOT about what order the adjectives are in with regard to that “rule” (which isn’t a rule at all, it’s a guideline) about adjective order in speech and writing. I don’t give a rat’s ass about that right now. I’m all about commas. Here’s what I’ve been seeing, of late:

the long, cold, winter

WTAF, people. Why are you putting that comma before “winter?” Would you write “the cold, winter” otherwise? How about “the long, winter?” No? Then why are you doing it in this situation? There is never (and you know how I feel about that word, but this is serious shit here) a comma between the final adjective in a series (even if there’s only ONE adjective!) and the noun the series is modifying. (I bet if I thought really hard about it, I could come up with a situation where there’d be a comma before the noun, BUT it would not be after a simple list of coordinate adjectives. And that’s what I’m talking about here: a series of coordinate adjectives. No other situation. Don’t muddy the waters by overthinking this. That way lies madness.)

You doubt my “never” statement? Try this. Look at point 6. I’ll be here when you get back.

Now. How do you know the adjectives are coordinate?

Here’s the easy guideline. If you could just as correctly say “and” in place of the comma, and if reversing the order doesn’t alter the sense (or make it into nonsense), they’re coordinate. Now, it sounds a little odd to me to say “the cold, long winter” BUT it’s not incorrect. It’s just odd. The sense isn’t any different. Here’s a case where the order matters:

I have not completed any serious post-graduate grammar courses.

“Serious, “post-graduate,” and “grammar” are all adjectives in this sentence, and they all modify “courses,” but they can’t be reversed and still make good sense.

I have not completed any grammar post-graduate serious courses.


The order matters. Those three adjectives in this sentence are not coordinate, so there are no commas. Not even one. None. No commas, and certainly not one before the noun “courses.”

Don’t take my word for it. Check the Chicago Manual of Style (I have the 17th edition), 6.36, “Commas with coordinate conjunctions.”

And for heaven’s sake, stop putting a comma after the final adjective. Just stop.



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