by Iola Goulton

In my last two posts, I’ve covered:

  • Commas with conjunctions.
  • The Oxford comma.
  • Comma after “so.”

Today I’m looking at commas with coordinate adjectives i.e. adjectives of the same type. Many of us were taught in school that we put commas between all adjectives. As a result, I often see sentences like this:

She wore a long, blue, silk dress.

That looks wrong, as though there are too many commas. But are there? And what is the rule? Fortunately, we have the Chicago Manual of Style to help us. Chicago has a dual test as to whether a comma is needed between coordinate adjectives:

  • Will “and” fit between the two adjectives without changing the meaning of the sentence? (CMOS 5.91 and 6.36).
  • Can the order of the adjectives be reversed without changing the meaning of the sentence? (CMOS 6.36)

If you can answer yes to both questions, then we need a comma. If the answer to either (or both) questions is no, then no comma is needed.

She wore a long and blue and silk dress.

However, that is a little awkward. We’d write: She wore a long blue silk dress.

If we change the order of the adjectives, we either change the meaning of the sentence, or write a sentence which doesn’t make sense: She wore a silk blue long dress.

The order of the adjectives is important, as outlined in the Royal Order of Adjectives:

Determiner (a, four)

Observation (beautiful, ugly)

Size (big, small)

Shape (square, round)

Age (antique, new)

Color (blue, yellow)

Origin (Italian, Hawaiian)

Material (wood, silk)

Qualifier (wedding, touring)

Noun (dress, car)

So if the dress was blue and green, we’d write: She wore a long blue and green silk dress.

We wouldn’t write: She wore a long blue, green silk dress.

Some versions of the Royal Order of Adjectives combine Size and Shape, which means we might add a comma in this example: She wore a long, flowing blue silk dress.

Although we might argue that “flowing” is an observation, which gives us: She wore a flowing long blue silk dress.

Yes, sometimes the order of adjectives is a matter of judgement. For example, another version of the order of adjectives omits Determiner, reverses Shape and Age, and renames Qualifier:










This gives us the mnemonic OSASCOMP.

So which comes first, shape or age? Again, it comes down to judgment. I think Age comes before Size in this example:

She wore an antique long blue silk dress.


She wore a long antique blue silk dress.

But this version works better with Size first: She wore a floor-length antique blue silk dress.

In all cases, no commas are needed. 

I hope that helps explain both the order of adjectives, and when to use commas with coordinate adjectives.

Iola Goulton is a New Zealand book reviewer, freelance editor, and author, writing contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist. Iola holds a degree in marketing, has a background in human resource consulting, works as a freelance editor, and has developed the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge, an email course for authors wanting to establish their online platform. When she’s not working, Iola is usually reading or writing her next book review. Iola lives in the beautiful Bay of Plenty in New Zealand (not far from Hobbiton) with her husband, son, and cat.; and