This happened whenever she was left alone in someone else's home. She'd feel as if she had been put inside a huge, abandoned turtle shell.

I don't know why, but I just put a comma in the example above (I think I learned this in some writing course.)

I searched for a similar sentences on Google and found this:

Living in a huge abandoned turtle shell called Big Green

So I'm a bit confused, when should an adjective be followed by a comma?


This concerns what R L Trask in his ‘Guide to Punctuation’ calls a listing comma. You might find the entire passage on commas helpful, but the summary of his advice on listing commas, which applies to lists of adjectives as well as nouns, is:

Use a listing comma in a list wherever you could conceivably use the word and (or or) instead. Do not use a listing comma anywhere else.

In your example, it would possible to write ‘a huge and abandoned turtle shell’, so that means you can write instead ‘a huge, abandoned turtle shell’.

  • Just to confirm how would you write this entire sentence: This team of heroes live in a giant abandoned turtle shell called “Big Green” and fight HighRoller to protect the humans and restore peace in the Hidden Kingdom. From here: cartoonnetwork.wikia.com/wiki/Hero:_108 – dcaswell Sep 22 '13 at 15:23
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    'This team of heroes live in a giant, abandoned turtle shell . . .' – Barrie England Sep 22 '13 at 15:28
  • In that sentence of literary style, comma is used exclusively for the drammatic effect, to relay the message to the reader that the adjective "giant" was meant to be emphasized. "Giant", in the just described context, is a subjective view of the narrator (the author or whoever else) and as such is of lower priority than the factual "abandoned"; therefore no comma would have been there had the author not decided to make the sentence nice and expressive in literary sense. In less literary registers, subjective epithets are not comma-separated from objective descriptions. I.e. grammatic priority. – Talia Ford Sep 22 '13 at 15:42
  • No. The comma should apply in any list of adjectives. – Tony Balmforth Sep 22 '13 at 15:49
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    Is the explanation and wording of Point #6 at the Purdue OWL satisfactory? – J.R. Sep 22 '13 at 16:46

Adjectives must be separated by a comma when they are of THE SAME priority level according to the rules of prenominal adjective order. Adjectives needn't be separated by a comma when they are of DIFFERENT priority level; although, a comma may be required if emphasis is intended.

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    CGEL (Ch.20 section 3.2.1) illustrates this with the example It has a powerful, fuel-injected engine. It explains: "... engine is modified by a coordination of adjectives, giving the meaning 'engine that is both powerful and has fuel injection'. In a powerful fuel-injected engine, by contrast, there are two layers of modification: engine is modified by fuel-injected to form the nominal fuel-injected engine, and this is in turn modified by powerful, allowing a somewhat different interpretation, 'engine that is powerful by the standards applicable to fuel-injected ones'." – snailboat Sep 22 '13 at 16:50
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    (Of course, this is not exactly the same thing this answer says, but it gives a good example for coordinated versus non-coordinated adjectives and comma use, which seems relevant here.) – snailboat Sep 22 '13 at 17:01
  • @snailboat I've just now seen your comment. Yes, that is the same thing I wrote. In the first S, powerful is intended as an objective observation, thus a comma must be used. In the 2nd S, powerful is intended as a subjective view, thus comma is barred. So, in the 1st S, there are two objective observations, two adjectives of the same priority level; in the 2nd S, the level are different, as one descriptor is a subjecteve appraisal and one is the objective observation. – Talia Ford Sep 22 '13 at 17:17

You're right to use the comma. It's used when you employ more than one adjective to describe something, so in your example, huge and abandoned both describe the turtle shell, otherwise you're obliged to say 'huge and abandoned. The comma is a substitute for and.

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    "Do you like my sexy red leather Italian shoes?" – Talia Ford Sep 22 '13 at 15:29
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    "My pretty little old blue vase was stolen yesterday." v "My beauteous, diminutive, antique cerulean vase was stolen yesterday." – Edwin Ashworth Sep 22 '13 at 16:27
  • @EdwinAshworth You put those pause-markers between those rare adjectives in order to let the reader process the lexical content, because you deem your reader not familiar enough with them. I see that as an exception to the rule. Furthermore, diminutive is not really at a level different from that of beautious. It informs of size, which is an objective physical property, but in a tenor so chosen as to express something subjective (because diminutive isn't small, but extremely small, and that intensifier can imply a subjective perspective, which levels diminutive with beauteous). – Talia Ford Sep 22 '13 at 17:11
  • Hmmm, seem to be quite big differences between English depending what country you're in. – bamboo Sep 22 '13 at 17:52
  • @Talia Ford: I'm not totally set against your 'prenominal adjective order' guidelines, far from it. However, when you then concede that '[one may] put those pause-markers between those rare adjectives in order to let the reader process the lexical content' and that '[p]honology might also play a role', the bald statement 'Adjectives must be separated by a comma when they are of THE SAME priority level according to the rules of prenominal adjective order' is too strongly prescritive. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 22 '13 at 19:55

Like the poster said about the prenominal ordering... if adjective are of the SAME priority, use commas. But let's say you were SPECIFICALLY on a search for abandoned turtle shells. Let's say you were on an important quest JUST for these abandoned turtle shells... and you didn't care about any occupied turtle shells. In fact, the whole point of your story would then revolve around.

A huge abandoned turtle shell... A tiny abandoned turtle shell... A stinky abandoned turtle shell...

Even though the "abandoned" part is an adjective, it is SO important that it becomes a part of the indivisible phrase "abandoned turtle shell" which becomes it's own special entity. In this case, even though "abandoned" becomes a VERY important quality of the turtle shells, it becomes a less important adjective (because, in a sense, it's just a regular part of our turtle shell now)... so the most important adjectives are the modifiers "huge" and "tiny" and "stinky" which now becomes more important because they differentiate our abandoned turtle shells.

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