A series of adjectives that comes before a noun can be classified as coordinate or cumulative.
- Review Module 6, Lesson 4: Order of Adjectives.
Definition: Coordinate adjectives modify nouns in similar ways. They describe similar features. Most coordinate adjectives are adjectives of opinion or evaluation. Commas must be used between coordinate adjectives.
That frightening, monstrous creature under the bridge is a troll.
Definition: Cumulative adjectives build upon each other and must be in a certain order. They are equally important and give different types of information. Do not use commas between cumulative adjectives.
Two tall pillars were used to form the entrance to Stonehenge.
The way to figure out whether adjectives are coordinate or cumulative is to put the conjunction and between the adjectives or to see if they can be switched around. If the sentence still sounds natural when you add and or change the adjective order, add a comma.
That frightening and monstrous creature under the bridge is a troll.
That monstrous, frightening creature under the bridge is a troll.
These sentences both sound fine, so you can tell that these are coordinate adjectives of opinion.
Two and tall pillars were used to form the entrance to Stonehenge.
Tall two pillars were used to form the entrance to Stonehenge.
These sentences both sound awkward. Because you cannot add and or change the adjective order, you know that these are cumulative adjectives.
Add a Comma for Clarity
Sometimes a comma is inserted to clarify that two adjectives modify an adjective-noun combination.
The delicious, moist chocolate cake
The chocolate cake is delicious and moist. Chocolate cake is the adjective-noun combination (chocolate tells us what kind of cake we're talking about). Delicious and moist are separate adjectives that describe chocolate cake.
The delicious moist chocolate cake
The moist chocolate cake is delicious. The adjective delicious is modifying the whole phrase moist chocolate cake. The adjective moist has fused with chocolate cake.