Is there a comma missing in "A Heuristic for Capacitated Hierarchical Resource Location Problems"? It is a title of a bachelor's thesis.

I'm not a native speaker, but I think there should be a comma between Capacitated and Hierarchical because both refer to the resource location problem (not the hierarchy is capacitated). But a native speaker told me that commas aren't necessary in titles. What's correct?

2 Answers 2


The caveat about different treatment for titles is a style issue.

However, there are rules normally applicable to insertion of commas between adjacent adjectives, as this English Plus article [tidied and slightly modified] explains:

Commas with Paired Adjectives

Coordinate Adjectives

If two adjectives modify a noun in the same way, place a comma between the two adjectives. These are called coordinate adjectives.

[The condition 'in the same way' is very loosely defined in this article, but in-depth analyses of semantic types become very involved and controversial. But:]There is a two-part test for coordinate adjectives:

(1) Can you replace the comma with the word and?

(2) Can you reverse the order of the adjectives and keep the same meaning?

If you can do both, then you have coordinate adjectives.

Correct: Did you read about Macomber's short, happy life?

Tests for Correctness: Did you read about Macomber's short and happy life? [this rewrite is fine]

Did you read about Macomber's happy, short life? [sounds just about OK to me]

All three sentences say the same thing, so the adjectives are coordinate adjectives and separated by commas in the original.

Cumulative Adjectives

If the paired adjectives fail the two-part test, then no comma is used. This shows that they must remain in a certain order to make sense. These are called cumulative adjectives.

Incorrect: The overweight, former president told us how he lost fifty-five pounds.

Tests for Correctness: The overweight and former president... ( unacceptable)

The former, overweight president... (unacceptable)

Clearly, no comma is needed for these cumulative adjectives.

Correct: The overweight former president told us how he lost fifty-five pounds. [This example chooses widely 'different' adjectives. The little brown dog has far less disparate adjectives and still fails the tests.]

Here, I haven't the subject-specific vocabulary to apply these tests to the pair capacitated and hierarchical, and it would probably sound outlandish as a rewrite (but then it does as it stands, to my ears). If pushed, like you I'd say that inclusion of the comma is indicated. Perhaps a longer title would paradoxically sound more acceptable.

  • Thanks, that test is helpful! Adding "and" and reversing the order is no problem in this case. I personally don't like punctuation in titles too much. Is it acceptable to not use a comma in a title even if they are coordinate adjectives? Feb 16, 2015 at 8:30
  • 'Acceptable' is a movable feast, if I may noun an adjective. I've seen a five-point rating scale for acceptability of strings (and I'm not even sure it included punctuation). Doubtless different style guides have different recommendations, even when it comes to punctuation (not just the notorious debates on capitalisation!) in titles. If you're expected to adhere to a particular style guide, check with it / its authors. If not, aim for unambiguity before ease of reading before prettiness (but if this leads to outlandishness, start again). Feb 16, 2015 at 13:19

No comma needed if "capacitative hierarchical" makes sense.

However, I suggest that there should be a hyphen between "Resource" and "Location" if the problems have to do with locating a resource.

  • "capacitative hierarchical" doesn't make sense. So I guess, a comma would be better. For some reason "resource location" is always without hyphen in other publications. Feb 16, 2015 at 10:12
  • Even when used in "resource location problems?" I recommend the hyphen because you use stacked nouns (resource+location) as a single modifier. "Resource location" by itself is fine, because it has only one noun used as modifier. Feb 17, 2015 at 6:36
  • I agree with you, but I'll still follow the convention. See how the hyphen is never used: scholar.google.de/… Feb 26, 2015 at 18:06

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