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When we use more than one adjective, e.g.

The big, red, bouncy balloon.

The list of three adjectives {big, red, and bouncy} is a list, so by rights it should be separated by commas, with an "and" between the last two terms.

If somebody asked us to describe the balloon we would without hesitation say that it is "big, red and bouncy". Going by the rules, the correct form for the first phrase given above would be to write:

The big, red and bouncy balloon.

But we virtually never see this. In lists of adjectives and is used as the exception, whereas in lists in general, to exclude it is the exception. Is it a correct technicality to include the "and", which nobody observes, thereby making it acceptable to exclude the "and" on the basis of common usage? And to write the best English we can, should we be including the "and" in lists of adjectives?

marked as duplicate by JonMark Perry, Lumberjack, Rory Alsop, Skooba, JEL Aug 24 '18 at 18:24

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  • Why do you think that rules that apply to nouns and verbs also apply to adjectives and adverbs? There's no rule that says you need to use and for a list of adjectives that come right before the noun. – Peter Shor Aug 16 '18 at 12:27
  • "Going by the rules" - what "rules"? But you can use "and" in a list of adjectives modifying a noun. Particularly if you want to emphasise the last one - in your 2nd example, you are letting us know that the ball is bouncy as well as being big and red. – user184130 Aug 16 '18 at 12:28
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    @bookmanu I think that's a related but different instance, as in that example it's a device used as an exception whereas in this case it's the norm. – user334732 Aug 16 '18 at 15:14
  • @PeterShor this rule applies to nouns, verbs and adjectives, as in the example I gave: is "big, red and bouncy". - in fact it's the standard rule for any list. – user334732 Aug 16 '18 at 15:16
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    In Spanish, you do indeed usually need to put an y between the last two adjectives in a list. But in English, there is no such rule for adjectives before the noun and there hasn't been one for the last four centuries. Ditto for adverbs. – Peter Shor Aug 16 '18 at 15:53
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Generally, it's not necessary. But that's a style thing; what you've written isn't wrong.

To me, the way you have written it emphasises the bounciness over all the other adjectives by separating it out from the others. It's also noticeable, because it doesn't follow the conventional order of adjectives - see Cambridge Dictionary adjectives order.

A more common ordering would be "the big, bouncy, red balloon".

  • Why would you not have a comma between "bouncy" and "red"? – user334732 Aug 16 '18 at 15:43
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    @RobertFrost I was being inconsistent. It looks like it's normal to add commas for 3 or more adjectives, so I have fixed it above. – Simon B Aug 16 '18 at 15:46
  • It was actually the question of whether there should be a comma after the last adjective, which drew my attention to the practice of excluding the "and". By that point I had been excluding the "and" for forty years without ever noticing! – user334732 Aug 16 '18 at 15:58
  • @RobertFrost Personally I wouldn't, and the Cambridge Dictionary doesn't on their web site. But then, I have always commas in based on where I would pause when speaking, rather than using any fancy rule. – Simon B Aug 16 '18 at 21:05

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