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Working on a sentence that's bothering me:

After a few minutes, a thin blue-eyed girl, wearing black stockings and wrapped tightly in a silver mink, kicked over the can with her white tennis shoe.

  1. It feels like it should be written without commas but I don't like how it reads—it feels unclear. But I don't know if putting commas there is grammatically correct. Is it?

I also thought about writing it with an em dash, which I think is grammatically correct, but stylistically it calls too much attention to it:

...a thin blue-eyed girl—wearing black stockings and wrapped tightly in a silver mink—kicked over...

So, is it grammatically correct with or without the commas?

  1. Should there be a comma between thin and blue-eyed? I tried the test of reversing it: ...a blue-eyed thin girl... which doesn't sound right, so I figured no comma based on the rules for compound adjectives, but I'm still not sure.

Thanks!

  • I don't get how silver mink and a white tennis shoe go together. It just sounds odd. – Mark Hubbard May 19 at 16:41
  • Welcome to ELU, romebot. On ELU, incorrect punctuation and ungrammaticality are disjoint. // Your initial version is correct, as is the comma-less version (though I wouldn't like to read it without a pause or two). Substituting dashes for commas is not incorrect; it signals more serious pauses. / The comma between 'thin' and 'blue-eyed' is optional. Though doubtless some style guides would tell us otherwise. – Edwin Ashworth May 19 at 17:00
  • @MarkHubbard that's true, it's odd, but that's her character. – romebot May 19 at 18:48
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    @EdwinAshworth thanks. so both versions of both are correct, though with commas gives more pause (which I want) – romebot May 19 at 18:49
  • It's grammatical either way. It's simply that the meaning changes subtly. – Jason Bassford May 20 at 18:52
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After a few minutes, a thin blue-eyed girl, wearing black stockings and wrapped tightly in a silver mink, kicked over the can with her white tennis shoe.

  1. Do you need a comma between 'thin' and 'blue-eyed'?

No. Adding one changes the pace of the expression but not much else. Without the comma, it's a blue-eyed girl who was thin. With the comma, it's a girl who was thin and also blue-eyed. There's usually not much daylight between those two ideas.

The inability to reverse the order has nothing to do with anything. English has a general order for adjectives that it prefers and 'seems natural' to native speakers, but that's a whole separate conversation. The order has very little to do with whether commas are necessary.

  1. Do you need commas around the appositive phrase following 'girl'?

No. Adding them changes the pace of the expression but not much else. Without the commas, it was a girl in black stockings and a silver mink. With the commas, it was a girl who (by the way) was wearing black stockings and a silver mink. Again, there's not much daylight between the two ideas.

  1. Could you use dashes around the appositive instead of commas?

Sure. Properly, en dashes should have spaces around them and em dashes shouldn't, but most people don't really notice the difference between the two.

  1. Are the dashes bad?

No. It only feels odd if you don't use them in the rest of your writing. Generally eschewing them is a matter of house style and would be up to the copy editors at whoever's publishing your story.

  • Hello, Ily. To quote Sven Yargs: 'Your answer seems to be heavily weighted toward personal opinion as opposed to objective analysis—but this site especially prizes answers that have an identifiable basis in verifiable fact rather than just opinion. Please consider strengthening your answer by citing some independent authority that draws the same general conclusion that you do with regard to usage of that and this. Thanks!' Note that I stuck to a 'comment'; there are doubtless previous answers addressing OP's queries. – Edwin Ashworth May 19 at 18:13
  • @lly so both versions of both are correct? then with the commas, it reads better, so I think i'll go with that. thanks!! – romebot May 19 at 18:50
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The only comma that bothers me in this sentence is the first one. I think it reads nicely to say “After a few minutes a thin blue-eyed girl, wearing black stockings and wrapped tightly in a silver mink...”

To make it more succinct though I would rewrite this sentence as “After a few minutes a thin, blue-eyed girl in black stockings and wrapped tightly in a silver mink kicked the can over with her white tennis shoe.”

  • thanks for the input. – romebot May 20 at 5:56

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