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I have a sentence where I would like to use three adjectives. Is this the correct way to do it?

"Moments such as this have allowed me to understand the privilege I have been given to be a first generation, working class, engineering student."


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I like it the way you have it, as it's easy to parse its meaning that way. :) – F.E. Feb 2 '14 at 20:36
You have arguably three attributive nouns here. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 2 '14 at 23:33
"Engineering student" is a compound noun so I wouldn't put a comma before it. A "happy engineering student" is a student of engineering who is happy; a "happy, engineering student" is a happy student who engineers. – David Richerby Feb 3 '14 at 1:05
up vote 7 down vote accepted

It's fine, but omit the second comma.

Where you have consecutive adjectives like this, the comma is used in place of and. You could write first generation and working class engineering student, but you wouldn’t normally write first generation and working class and engineering student.

A comma after both first generation and working class would suggest that they and engineering were all modifying student equally. But what you probably want to convey is that you are an engineering student who is both first generation and working class.

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Yes! I am trying to convey that I am an engineering student who is both first generation and working class. So the following works? "...to be a first generation, working class engineering student." – Jaiesh_bhai Feb 2 '14 at 18:58
I would say so, yes. – Barrie England Feb 2 '14 at 18:59
I would certainly hyphenate 'first-generation' and 'working-class'. And I am puzzled as to why the comma is omitted after 'class'. Without the comma, surely it needs to be 'working-class-engineering' student, doesn't it? I can say for certain that without the hyphens these expressions, in an essay, would attract a tutor's correction at the University of Reading history department. – WS2 Feb 2 '14 at 20:57
I'd hyphenate 'first-generation' and 'working-class' and omit the commas as now superfluous. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 2 '14 at 23:31

If you hyphenate 'working-class-engineering', you're implying that 'working-class' modifies 'engineering', whereas the adjectives all modify 'student'. Lord Dunsany wrote a couple of pieces on nouns used as adjectives and the related punctuation issues that would be worth reading if you want to look at his views on this kind of structure.

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