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Rated: 13+ | Book | Writing | #890221
A library featuring commonly committed errors of the English language.
#458319 added February 15, 2007 at 1:05pm
Restrictions: None
Coordinate Adjectives
Adjectives are coordinate when they work equally to modify another word:

*Bullet* The pianist played a beautiful, haunting melody.

“Beautiful” and “haunting” modify “melody” to the same degree, with no bearing on one another. You could just as easily say it was a haunting, beautiful melody; neither adjective is more attached to “melody.” To get a better idea of what I mean, here’s a case in which the adjectives modifying a word are not coordinate:

*Bullet* The cold December wind chilled me to my bones.

“Cold” and “December,” in this case, are know as hierarchical adjectives, because “cold” is really modifying “December wind” as whole. When you have hierarchical adjectives, they build on each other.

The difference between coordinate and hierarchical adjectives, as you may have noticed, is that coordinate adjectives have a comma between them; hierarchical adjectives don’t. How do you tell when you have coordinate adjectives? Perform the following two tests, which you can actually do at once:

*Bullet* Add “and” between the adjectives.
*Bullet* Reverse the order of the adjectives.

If the adjectives pass both these tests, then they’re coordinate. Be warned that even though we may be accustomed to hearing some adjectives in a certain order – for example, a “tall, dark, and handsome man” as opposed to a “dark, handsome, and tall man” – that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong to reverse them.

Examples:

*Bullet* The pianist played a beautiful haunting melody.

         Haunting and beautiful melody *Right* Makes sense *Right* Coordinate

         Correct comma usage: The pianist played a beautiful, haunting melody.

*Bullet* The cold December wind chilled me to my bones.

         December and cold wind *Right* Makes no sense *Right* Hierarchical

         Correct Without Commas

*Bullet* Let’s go catch the 8:00 show at that old drive-in movie theater.

         Movie and drive-in theater *Right* Makes no sense *Right* Hierarchical
         Drive-in and old movie theater *Right* Makes no sense *Right* Hierarchical

         Correct Without Commas

*Bullet* I could really go for a hot delicious pepperoni pizza right about now.

         Pepperoni and delicious pizza *Right* Makes no sense *Right* Hierarchical
         Delicious and hot pepperoni pizza *Right* Makes sense *Right* Coordinate

         Correct comma usage: I could really go for a hot, delicious pepperoni pizza right about now.
© Copyright 2007 Davy Kraken (UN: kraken at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Davy Kraken has granted Writing.Com, its affiliates and its syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.
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