What Is a Coordinate Adjective? Definition and Examples

An element in English grammar that tends to confuse writers is the concept of coordinate adjectives. While they seem complex, taking time to master them can elevate your writing quality and ensure clarity. But what is a coordinate adjective, and how can a writer determine whether an adjective is coordinate? Reviewing grammar rules can help make sense of these adjectives.

What Is a Coordinate Adjective in Grammar?

The term “coordinate adjectives” refers to two or more adjectives that modify the same noun in a sentence. These adjectives can be arranged or separated by a comma without negatively impacting the meaning or flow of the sentence. Many writers use more than one descriptor for a noun discussed, and formatting these adjectives the right way is essential. 

For example, the statement, “It was a gray, dreary day on Monday,” uses two adjectives. “Gray” and “dreary” both modify the noun “day.”

Using a Comma in Place of “And”

When using coordinate adjectives, it’s important to understand the role that commas play in organizing the sentence. Commas are placed between coordinate adjectives, but they’re not used after the final adjective in the sentence. Though the commas can be replaced with the word “and,” using a comma helps improve the flow of the sentence.

  • She wore a long, elegant dress to her senior prom.
  • She wore a long and elegant dress to her senior prom.

Both sentences make sense, but the first is more concise and flows freely without the use of the word “and.”

If a writer uses three adjectives to describe a noun, the word “and” might be appropriate to separate the final two, but it’s not always necessary. For example:

  • Allan walked along an old, narrow, rickety bridge.
  • Allan walked along an old, narrow, and rickety bridge.

Coordinate Adjective Exceptions

In some sentences, the adjectives used are cumulative instead of coordinate. With a cumulative adjective, the words in question work together as a single unit, which modifies the noun. The phrase, “my two-year-old son” is an example of a cumulative adjective. It’s a compound modifier that doesn’t require a comma between its segments. 

When referring to the same person, a coordinate adjective might say, “my bright, young son.” The words “bright” and “young” are independent adjectives that are used together to describe a noun.

What Is a Non-Coordinate Adjective?

A non-coordinate adjective is one that does not independently modify a noun, but instead works with other adjectives to illustrate an idea. For example, the phrase “five little ducks” uses the words “five” and “little” together to specify the size and number of the ducks. “Little” would be the non-coordinate adjective in this phrase.

Making sense of what a coordinate adjective is can enhance the clarity and quality of your writing. When you understand how these adjectives function and how to organize them in a sentence, you’ll be better equipped to describe your subjects in detail. Remember, if you can use the word “and” between two adjectives that describe the same word in a sentence, you’re working with coordinate adjectives.

To learn more about how to modify nouns correctly, check out our collection of helpful articles.


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