Coordinate adjectives require a comma in between, for example:

  • That's a big, red house.

But it looks odd to write "big, old" or "big, ol'," for example:

  • That's a big, ol' house.

Rather, it's looks more right without the comma, for example:

  • That's a big ol' house.

Google Ngram seems to back that up much of the time:

  • "...used to be a spring and a big old fig tree."

  • "He and his five sons would hitch a horse up to a big old rock..."

  • "Look for...the big old oak tree."

Ngran : "big old"

So why does "big old" so often not appear with a comma in between? Is it grammatically incorrect to write "big" and "old" without a comma in between? Or is there some special rule that applies to "big old" and/or "big ol' " that allows the exclusion of the comma?

  • 4
    Are you sure they're coordinate? Personally, I would tend to think of ol’ as more of a suffix-ish entity here than as a separate adjective at all—especially because it doesn't actually imply anything about the age of the thing in question. It's similar to big-ass, where we usually even use a hyphen to show the connectedness of the two parts. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 18 '16 at 6:30
  • In much of the U.S., "big old" (or "big ol'") is a set adjective phrase. I've never seen it hyphenated, but introducing a comma between the two words would be counterproductive because it would suggest that they were meant to exist in some sort of independent balance as descriptive terms, instead of representing a single descriptive idea. – Sven Yargs Jul 19 '16 at 21:34

"'ol" can be used to mean "old", when used on its own, but with "big" it has a different meaning: when used in conjunction with "big" like this, "'ol", is an intensifier. You're not saying that the tree is old. It's closer in meaning to saying that the tree is "very big".

People might say "big ol' bear" etc, "big ol' rock". They're not talking about the bear's age - most people can't tell how old a bear or rock is by looking at it (and almost all rocks are very old, of course). They're just emphasising how big it is.

There are probably other uses of 'ol like this - ie other words which it can intensify. In other cases it might literally mean "old". Like all language, context is key.

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