Apr 09, 2012

Grammar Hammer: Adjectives and a Damp, Drizzly April

April showers...

It’s April, and that means we can expect a damp, drizzly month. But, as you probably already know from the famous rhyme, that’s the only way to get those beautiful, bright flowers in May.

We use adjectives — like “damp,” “drizzly,” “beautiful” and “bright” — all the time to describe our surroundings. Adjectives are words that provide extra details about an object. Before you start showering your writing with buckets full of adjectives, let’s review how to correctly punctuate descriptions with multiple adjectives:

 

Most of the time, only use a comma when there are at least three items in a series, not if there are just two. For example:

  • There’s no need to rain dance; April is wet, and soggy enough already. (incorrect)
  • There’s no need to rain dance; April is wet and soggy enough already. (correct)
  • There’s no need to rain dance; April is wet, waterlogged and clammy enough already. (correct)

However, if two items are adjectives which modify a noun and are of equal weight, then use a comma to separate them. For example:

  • I’m ready for the cheery, bright flowers in May.
  • The tranquil, serene drizzling put the baby to sleep.

“Equal weight” means both adjectives are modifying the noun evenly. The test for that is whether the sentence still sounds right when the adjectives switch places or are separated by the word “and.”

  • I’m ready for the cheery and bright flowers in May.
  • I’m ready for the bright, cheery flowers in May.
  • The tranquil and serene drizzling put the baby to sleep.
  • The serene, tranquil drizzling put the baby to sleep.

If the test fails, then no comma is needed. For example, consider this sentence:

The beautiful purple flowers starting blooming.

  • The beautiful and purple flowers starting blooming. (incorrect)
  • The purple beautiful flowers starting blooming. (incorrect)

Additionally, don’t add a comma between two adjectives if the first adjective modifies the second, rather than the noun:

  • Early spring days require an unfailing umbrella.

In this case, “early” modifies “spring,” not “days.”

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Image courtesy of Flickr user jenny downing.

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