What happened to our comma?

Dear reader and especially writer,

greencommaI am worried. Worried about our little, curly friend, the comma. It seems to have done something terribly wrong with adjectives. They used to be such good friends, and lately I see more and more people forget about our comma when they describe huge, beautiful, interesting things, and even when tiny, insignificant items are detailed.

Instead, more and more people seem content to write about  huge beautiful interesting things and  tiny insignificant items. Is the decline of the comma upon us? When it comes to adjectives, there are a few very simple rule of thumb (oops, I almost wrote rule of comma) to hold against your writing.

1. If the word ‘and‘ can be placed between adjectives, then use a comma.

This is where one has the huge, beautiful, interesting things, or the tiny, insignificant items, because they’re tiny and insignificant items, compared to the  huge and beautiful and interesting things. Failing to apply our tiny curly friend here makes for  huge beautiful interesting things, where huge says something about beautiful and beautiful says something about the interesting, and only interesting says something about the things (whatever those might be).

2. Use a comma when an -ly adjective is used with other adjectives.

Before you call in the cavalry, let me assure you that there is a way to test how this would work. Let’s consider Marky. Marky is lonely, and he is also young. And he’s a boy. Does that make Marky a lonely young boy, or a lonely, young boy? He is a lonely and young boy. That’s that, lonely is used as an adjective.

Compare Marky to Joyce, who is an overly active girl. Is Joyce an overly and active girl? Hmm, doubtful, unless you can show me other overly girls who are active. That’s it then, overly is not used as an adjective to the noun girl, instead it says something about active.

Please, everyone, don’t let the comma become a stranger.

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