you're reading...
Adjectives, Punctuation

Note 64 – Ambiguity with adjectives and commas

For the background to my writing challenge, please read my first blog by clicking the following link – If you would prefer to dive straight into note 64, then please read on…

Adjectives and commas

According to Graham King in his book Collins Improve Your Punctuation, if the adjectives in your sentence “define separate attributes” e.g. abrupt, rude, opinionated, then you would separate them by a comma. On the other hand you wouldn’t separate them with a comma if the adjectives “work together to create a single image” e.g. large concrete shed. Some examples are below:

  • My next door neighbour is a tall, clever and rich person (these are all separate attributes, so the first two are split by commas)
  • There is a brown African drum in my living room (these adjective work together more, so no comma is required)

Tips from the experts

As this seems a little ambiguous, I’ve included a few tips from the experts:

  • The book Collins Improve Your Punctuation explains that “One way to deal with the ambiguity problem is to imagine an and between the adjectives; if an and can be inserted and still makes sense, then a comma can normally be subsituted.”
  • Bernard C. Lamb in his book The Queen’s English says “if you employ a series of adjectives, use commas between adjectives where the sense is and”.

Quick test

Which of the following sentences do you think should have commas separating the adjectives (shown in bold)?

Q1. In our garden there is a large concrete shed

Q2. There is a small blue van outside our house

Q3. The girl had soft brown hair

Q4. There are a lot of bees in our pretty tidy garden

As usual, the answers can be found at the end of this blog.

Please feel free to comment on this blog if you wish and don’t forget to send me any requests (relating to writing/English) that you would like me to blog about. Hope you have enjoyed your weekend.

Until tomorrow…


This blog:

My other blog:

My website: (includes first chapter of my book)

Twitter: @madeirasandra and @tipsandluxuries

Reference list:

Graham King The Collins Improve your Punctuation, UK

Bernard C. Lamb The Queen’s English (2010), UK


For Q1, 2 and 3, the adjective appear to work together so I wouldn’t separate them with commas.

For Q4, this sentence could have two meanings a ‘pretty tidy’ garden (fairly tidy garden) or a pretty, tidy garden (pretty and tidy garden). It would therefore require a comma if the garden was pretty and tidy, as these are two separate attributes.


About Sandra Madeira

I am a full-time working mum with a passion for writing and inspiring others. Subjects I tend to blog about are life skills, parenting, decluttering, worklife balance, etc. At the moment I am on a decluttering mission creating space in my house, garden and mind. I have challenged myself to do at least ten minutes a day and write about it. Have a good day! Sandra Freelance Writer


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 401 other subscribers

Blog Stats

  • 183,330 hits
%d bloggers like this: