Many writers have stressed over how many commas are needed in something like the following from this week's episode of Perfect (which I will publish shortly):
She opened the thick, dark brown, recycled plastic frames and placed them on top of her head.My critique partner Vanessa, shared a link from Grammar Girl with me since she felt I should/could punctuate that sentence differently. If she was punctuating the sentence, she might do it differently. However I chose to leave it as you see it.
Because what I'm really trying to say is:
She opened the recycled plastic frames that were also thick and dark brown...
So why not use "thick, dark brown, recycled, plastic frames"?
Much like dark is meant to tell us about the shade of brown (not dark frames), recycled tells us about the kind of plastic. These frames were not actually reused, but made from recycled plastic. Wow! So much information can be understood by simply using a piece of punctuation. Isn't grammar fun?!?
Here's an excerpt from my email to Vanessa on the subject of punctuating Cumulative and Compound Adjectives
I had started removing them [commas] figuring they were yet another thing to go out of favor in the recent past (like the sodding adverb), so I started pulling them out just for fun and since I hate any extra commas! I ... However, I tend to prefer Truss' explanation from Eats, Shoots & Leaves (pp 86-7 in my copy)
In a list of adjectives, again the rule is that you use a comma where an and would be appropriate - where the modifying words are all modifying the same thing to the same degree:It was a dark, stormy night. (The night was dark and stormy) [clipping second example]
But you do NOT use a comma for:
It was an endangered white rhino.
This is because ... the adjectives do their jobs in joyful combination; they are not intended as a list. The rhino isn't endangered and white.[My apologies to my readers and beloved Ms Truss for the improper indentation and spacing in the above examples, but wysiNOTwyg editors are a pain in my arse and I'm tired of fighting with Blogger's code! You probably get the idea though.]
And clearly, at some point, we as writers have to decide what the group of words mean. I often use the independence test.
It was a dark night.
It was a stormy night.
It was an endangered rhino.
It was a white rhino.
both work as independent sentences, they tell more as a single whole. However, this isn't the best example since there are actually no white rhinos, no off-white rhinos, no eggshell rhinos. (And yes, I can tell you the derivation of the misnomer 'white rhino' if you are really interested.) White rhino is actually the common name of the animal, like Thomson's gazelle or Asian elephant or great white shark. But if I write, "the great, white whale," you'll probably think "Hey, that's Moby Dick" even though "it was white and great whale" doesn't make quite as much sense. However:
It was a white whale.
It was a great whale.
Makes sense just fine, right?