Should I use commas in lists of adjectives? Co-ordinate and cumulative adjectives.

❓ Loud cackling laugh or loud, cackling laugh?

Is cackling laugh a noun in itself, or is cackling an adjective describing the noun?

If we establish that laugh is the noun, cackling is the adjective. Loud is also an adjective describing the laugh.

So, you’re listing adjectives. These are co-ordinate adjectives, each in turn modifying the noun that follows.

The laugh is LOUD and CACKLING.

✔ It’s a loud, cackling laugh.

❌ Not a loud cackling laugh.

The alternative would be something like a celebratory dinner.

Celebratory modifies the dinner but you would consider the phrase as one whole. It’s not just a dinner, it’s a celebratory dinner. (M&S advert voices, please.) Celebratory dinner is the noun, the thing, the event.

So, you could have a festive celebratory dinner and you would not need any commas. These are cumulative adjectives. They build up more detail about the noun as a whole unit.

You’d only need commas if you were really stacking up those adjectives ahead of celebratory dinner. (And I wouldn’t recommend that.)

The exciting, eagely-anticipated, festive celebratory dinner.

I mean, perhaps after this year, you’d want to go the whole hog.

After last year’s non-event, maybe we’ll all prefix our Christmas invitations in such a way?

And why am I talking about Christmas in May?! This weather has got me all out of kilter!

I came here to talk about commas!

So, top tip: if you could add AND between your adjectives but have chosen not to, then use commas to separate your list of adjectives.

I hope that was a clear, helpful writing tip. (Clear AND helpful)

Published by clairecherryedits Indie Fiction Specialist. Line Editing. Copy Editing. Proofreading.

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