Good grief, it's a running gag (lady_ganesh) wrote in fandom_grammar,
Good grief, it's a running gag
lady_ganesh
fandom_grammar

ANSWER: "And" versus a comma when separating adjectives

starwatcher307 asked: Is there a rule for using "and" versus a comma to separate adjectives, or is it a matter of writing preference? ("She was always attracted to the strong and silent types." vs "She was always attracted to the strong, silent types.")

As far as I can tell, when it comes to coordinate adjectives (where you can reverse the word order without changing the meaning of the sentence), it comes down to writing preference.

With examples from Clue and Saiyuki.



The only grammar rules I can find indicate that it's appropriate to use a comma to separate adjectives when you might otherwise use 'and,' indicating that either is correct:
"Guess she's into big guys. You know, the strong, silent type," Gojyo said.

"No wonder she didn't want anything to do with you," Sanzo snapped.

Or:
"Guess she's into big guys. You know, the strong and silent type," Gojyo said.

"No wonder she didn't want anything to do with you," Sanzo snapped.

But in most cases, as in the above, the comma feels more 'natural' and the text will flow better.

There are a few cases when an 'and' will sound better. When the phrase is in a sentence fragment, the 'and' makes the sentence sound strong and affirmative:
"I prefer a certain kind of man," Mrs. White said. "Quiet and unassuming."

"Dead," Wadsworth added.

But even then, you may prefer to simply use the comma.
"I prefer a certain kind of man," Mrs. White said. "Quiet, unassuming."

"Dead," Wadsworth added.

The one place where you need to be careful of your 'ands' and commas is if you're in a long enough list of adjectives that a serial comma, or Oxford comma, should be considered:
"But he's so big. You know, big and strong...and big," Goku said. "His arms are like trees."

"He's big, strong, and enormous," Gojyo said. "We get it."

These commas have their own rules, which are nicely addressed in the above link.

Even though they're both technically correct, the 'and' and the comma both have a slightly different feel, so when you're writing, go for whatever works best for the character or your narrative voice.

On the other hand, cumulative adjectives-- where the meaning of the sentence changes if you reverse the word order-- should not have an 'and' and often don't need a comma at all:
"That big Indian fella you got looks tough," the innkeeper said.

Notice there's no comma between 'big' and 'Indian,' as it's not needed. (And also note that "Indian big" would make no sense-- that's why this example is a cumulative adjective, as the adjectives 'build' toward the word they're modifying.)

If you keep these rules in mind, you'll have clear, readable writing!
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