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Old 07-03-2002, 08:07 PM
Jpeg Jones Jpeg Jones is offline
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Grammar question: multiple adjectives

The phrase in question is: " the enclosed self-addressed, stamped envelope"

One of my colleagues insists that there should be a comma after "enclosed", relying on the rule that multiple consecutive adjectives each get a comma.

Well, yes, "enclosed" is an adjective, and it is followed by other adjectives, but I contend that it does not get a comma after it for the following reason:

The concept here is really " the enclosed {Thing}". That {Thing} is a "self-addressed, stamped envelope". Now, one wouldn't write " the enclosed, thing", would they? Just substitute "Thing" with "self-addressed, stamped envelope". No comma after "enclosed".

This may be somewhat of a sophisticated concept for my gramatically ham-fisted colleague to grasp, but I think it conveys a much more elegant meaning if done my way. Elegant, that is, until you realize that it's just a damn envelope.

Also, I know I'm right because I'm a guy.
Old 07-03-2002, 08:22 PM
Aspidistra Aspidistra is online now
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I smell a logical flaw...

What if the sentence was just " the self-addressed, stamped envelope" Your analysis would prove that that too should have no comma (because the concept here is "in the self-addressed {thing}").

Then by induction you could write the whole lot as...

"in the enclosed {self-addressed {thing}}"

So what you're proving is that there should be no commas anywhere in the adjective list. Doesn't sound right to me...

On the other hand, I'm a chick, so what would I know?
Old 07-03-2002, 08:27 PM
tekgraf tekgraf is offline
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Sorry guy, you're wrong. You changed the rule when you eliminated a series of adjectives with "thing". When there is no series there is no comma. Your friend is correct and there should be a comma after each and every adjective in the series except the last one.
Old 07-03-2002, 08:43 PM
lissener lissener is offline
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In English grammar, the only thing more open to interpretation and ambiguity than the comma is . . . well, nothing. Either construction would find support from different stylebooks or English professors. As a sometime copyeditor, I let style and flow dictate my comma esoterica. In other words, I'd probably leave the exampled comma out in a more informal, conversational piece, but insert it in a stiffer, more formal one.
Old 07-03-2002, 08:49 PM
Jpeg Jones Jpeg Jones is offline
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That is a very good point, Aspidistra. Here's my response (and I know you'll all claim I'm making up the rules to benefit my hypothesis, but I really am trying to be logical):

Another aspect to this phrase is that we have two different types of adjectives before "envelope". "Self-addressed" and "stamped" are attributes, describing the physical characteristics of the envelope. I would put commas between these adjectives under any circumstance. Example: "Large, green envelope" looks like proper usage to me.

"Enclosed" is not an attribute of the envelope. It is a description of its location. Therefore, it is distinct from the other two adjectives by family as well as by usage.

Tekgraf, your quote "When there is no series there is no comma" actually helps prove my point. "...enclosed {Thing}" is not a series. Never mind what's inside the brackets. See above for my explanation of why what's in the brackets deserves to be separated.
Old 07-03-2002, 08:55 PM
deepbluesea deepbluesea is offline
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Although there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to commas, the adjective-series one comes close, at least in the hearts of English teachers. I think - think - that you're wrong and your friend is right. (I think that mostly because of the argument you suggested - if you don't need the comma after enclosed, why do you need it after self-addressed?)

Here's my suggestion:

Rewrite that sentence. Say " the enclosed, a self-addressed, stamped envelope." Now enclosed is not an adjective and the comma HAS to be there. You avoid the clumsiness of a three-word adjective series (which is why you think your solution is right - in this case, the right answer sounds wrong), you avoid arguments with your co-worker, and you've only had to add one letter.

However, if you put money on this, there's a way you can weasel out of paying it. Invoke the higher-order grammar rule that says that you only need commas when they are necessary to convey the meaning of the sentence unambiguously. Your sentence is clear as it stands - no one thinks enclosed is modifying self-addressed - so you don't need the comma and you're right.

But I still think you're probably wrong.

Oh, and a note - you'll never get anywhere trying to argue English grammar with logic and reason.
Old 07-03-2002, 08:58 PM
Jpeg Jones Jpeg Jones is offline
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You'll never get anywhere trying to argue English grammar with logic and reason.
Old 07-03-2002, 09:06 PM
tekgraf tekgraf is offline
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Try this: "enclosed" is really an abbreviation of the phrase "which is enclosed". So if it says
"stamped, self-addressed envelope which is enclosed" you probably would not separate the parenthetical with a comma. However move it to the front as "enclosed" (parenthetical phrase used as an adjective) and it should have its very own comma.
Otherwise it would look like this

the envelope which is enclosed AND is stamped AND is self-addressed
Old 07-03-2002, 09:36 PM
don't ask don't ask is offline
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There is a simple rule for the use of commas between adjectives - if the adjectives have equal value then use commas. They have equal value if you can reverse them and also use and between them.

So "The big, ugly fish." gets a comma.

But "His grey silk shirt." doesn't.

I think " the enclosed and self-addressed, stamped envelope"
or " the self-addressed, enclosed, stamped envelope" both sound pretty terrible so I would not use a comma in the original phrase.
Old 07-03-2002, 09:45 PM
Duckster Duckster is offline
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Originally posted by tekgraf
... after each and every adjective in the series ...
Uh huh.

How about ...

... after every adjective in the series ...


... after each adjective in the series ...

but never

... after each and every adjective in the series ...

Old 07-03-2002, 11:15 PM
MisterBK MisterBK is offline
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Well, I'm more concerned about clarity than I am about 'correctness' as arbitrarily defined by some style guide, but I figure I'll weigh in with some half-remembered concepts from my undergrad syntax classes...

What don't ask said touches upong the idea of adjective ordering. The canonical example is "a big, red balloon" vs. "a red, big balloon." The latter is clearly awkward (at least for native speakers of Standard American English), but why? The idea is that there are some more or less well-defined categories of adjectives, and those categories appear in a particular order when modifying a noun. Notice, for example, that you cannot say

* a self-addressed, enclosed, stamped envelope
* a self-addressed, stamped, enclosed envelope

You can test whether two adjectives are in the same category by switching their order. If the phrase still sounds okay, well, there you go! Same category!

they had a relaxing, quiet evening
they had a quiet, relaxing evening

And there the comma is required.

When the adjectives are of different categories, however, I think the comma is optional most of the time and prohibited some of the time. To use don't ask's examples:

his grey silk shirt
* his grey, silk shirt
the big, ugly fish
? the big ugly fish
* the ugly, big fish
* the ugly big fish

A-ha! "ugly" and "big" are not interchangeable! Does that mean the comma is optional? Hell, I dunno! Depends on the style guide

Not to mention this whole debate is confused by the existence of the stock phrase "self-addressed, stamped evelope." Given that this by itself is a discrete concept, I can see where Jpeg Jones is coming from arguing that the semantic structure is [enclosed {thing}].

Jesus, I think I just set a personal record for smilies in one post.
Old 07-04-2002, 12:23 AM
Gary T Gary T is offline
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I consider a comma appropriate where one would normally have a slight pause in speech. In the phrase "red, white, and blue" I think both commas are called for as people naturally pause after "white." (It chaps my hide to see the second comma eliminated, but for some reason editors never ask me first.) In the phrase posed in the OP, I could see it with no commas, one comma, or two commas depending on how one emphasized (or not) the various adjectives.

Perhaps off-topic, but it's the norm in naming automotive parts to not use commas--e.g. "left front stabilizer bar bracket bolt."
Old 07-04-2002, 01:18 AM
Jpeg Jones Jpeg Jones is offline
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Hmmm... I have two supporting references, now that I'm home.

Reference no. 1: Diana Hacker, A Writer's Reference (Boston: Bedford Books, 1995), p. 195.

Use a comma between coordinate adjectives not joined by and. Do not use a comma between cumulative adjectives. (bolding mine)
Adjectives are coordinate if they can be joined with and (strong and confident and independent) or if they can be scrambled (an independent, strong, confident person[sic]).
Two or more adjectives that do not modify the noun separately are cumulative.
Using this test, it's plain that one cannot say "...the enclosed and self-addressed and stamped envelope", whereas one can say "...the enclosed self-addressed and stamped envelope".

Therefore, there should not be a comma after "enclosed".

Reference no. 2: Sheridan Baker, The Practical Stylist (New Yok: Harper & Row, 1985, p. 214.
If each [adjective] seems to modify the noun directly, use commas. If each seems to modify the total accumulation of adjectives and noun (again, bolding mine), not use commas.
The adjectives "self-addressed" and "stamped" modify "envelope" directly. But "enclosed" modifies the accumulated "self-addressed, stamped envelope" entity.

Again, there should not be a comma after "enclosed".
Old 07-04-2002, 01:47 AM
Walloon Walloon is offline
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As a former book editor, I just want to say that Jpeg Jones has it right.
Old 07-04-2002, 03:03 AM
Nametag Nametag is offline
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The more recent posters are correct; there is no comma after "enclosed."

In the future, do not ask these yahoos about grammar or usage; you will never pick out the right answer from the wrong ones.

Instead, go to The Grammar Lady Message Board -- they'll fix you right up.
Old 07-05-2002, 03:25 AM
dopetalker dopetalker is offline
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"The large old broken-down brown wooden house"
"She deliberately, spitefully, coldly, stealthily and shockingly returned to the scene of the crime."
"I brought hot dogs, buns, mustard, beer, forks, plates and charcoal."
"You, they, she, he and I went to the lake to swim."
Old 07-05-2002, 03:33 AM
Walloon Walloon is offline
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Originally posted by dopetalker
"I brought hot dogs, buns, mustard, beer, forks, plates and charcoal."
"You, they, she, he and I went to the lake to swim."
The Chicago Manual of Style (13th ed.) calls for commas after "plates" and "he" in the above two examples.


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