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Is a comma needed between the adverbs in the following sentence?

I can smell her obviously newly ironed hair.

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  • Welcome to ELU. Do you mean the hair is obviously ironed, or that it's obvious that that has happened recently? The comma changes the meaning, so without knowing what the meaning is, it's not possible to answer the question. I suppose an answer could address both meanings, though; but I suspect the question has actually already been asked.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 27 at 12:11
  • Relevant but not identical question (it considers "it was not exactly accidentally done") english.stackexchange.com/questions/51810/…
    – Stuart F
    Sep 27 at 12:23
  • It's obvious that the ironing thing has happened recently, Andrew. 😊
    – Someone
    Sep 27 at 12:28
  • Anyway, thank you for the responses!
    – Someone
    Sep 27 at 12:33
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    @Someone - your answer to Andrew sounded like an insult, though I don't think you meant it that way! Because it was obvious to ME what you meant, as I couldn't initially fathom the alternative that he proposed, though I see it now. No comma, then, since "obviously" directly modifies the next adverb, which I think of as "newly-ironed" (which I recommend hyphenating, defeating any possibility of ambiguity, I think).
    – cruthers
    Sep 27 at 15:20
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As @ Andrew Leach has pointed out, the meaning of the sentence is not entirely clear.

One solution is to hyphenate two words:

I can smell her obviously newly-ironed hair.

Another solution is to hyphenate three words:

I can smell her obviously-newly-ironed hair.

Granted, this doubly-hyphenated word is unusual and probably used rarely. A more natural-sounding double hyphen would include, for example, all-or-none, around-the-clock, open-and-shut, whoop-de-doo, fish-and-chips, and brothers-in-law.

Noteworthy, I believe, is that without the first hyphen, the words "I smell her obviously" could, to readers--before they get to the word newly, mean it's obvious that I can smell her, or it could be the adverbial way of saying how I smell her, which is not likely. Neither of these is what you want to say, I think.

With the hyphens, however, the reader knows quickly that the word obviously is part of a doubly-hyphenated descriptor of her hair. In other words, what is obvious is that her hair is newly ironed.

Here are a few examples of how the sentence, when read, can make more sense. Granted, these examples are wordier than the original sentence, but not by much.

Her hair is, obviously, newly ironed, since I can smell it.

That her hair is newly ironed is obvious, since I can smell it.

Obviously, I can tell by the smell of her hair that it is newly ironed.

Likely, there are more ways to express your meaning, but perhaps I've given you some viable options.

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    I wish the down-voters of my answer would 'splain themselves. I'm willing to receive constructive criticism. Don Sep 28 at 2:07
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    I didn't downvote, but maybe the reason was the double-hyphen. I think you only need one hyphen - "obviously newly-ironed."
    – cruthers
    Sep 28 at 16:27
  • @cruthers: Thanks. I think you're right. In my defense, however, I did say that my double-hyphen exemplar is ONE solution and not the only solution. I'll put your suggestion as number one, and my suggestion at number two. Maybe I can get some down-voters to change their vote. It's worth a try. Don Sep 28 at 20:24

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