Answers to last week's comma challenge, as presented byJing Ping Fan (Correct answers were also sent in by Susan Benson):
- The tall and hollow trunk (or The tall, hollow trunk)
- The upper right corner
- A quick, easy lesson (or "and")
- My blue suede shoes
- The small down arrow
- A loud and overcrowded stadium (or comma)
- A small yellow icon
- A large, cracked hubcap (or "and")
- The large gray button
- A wordy and uninteresting paragraph (or comma)
Are you surprised by some of these answers? For example, did you hyphenate upper right corner? Did you place a comma there? Did you want a comma between small and down for the small down arrow? Let's take a closer look at the items that were difficult.
The first thing to remember is that placing a comma between the adjectives means that you could have used the word andthere. When we try that on the expression upper right corner, we get "upper and right corner." When you read that out loud, it sounds a little odd. But more significantly, it implies almost a feeling that there are two different corners being discussed--an upper one and a right one. This is similar to the expression my blue suede shoes. If you say "my blue and suede shoes," it sounds as if you are talking about two different shoes. The word and truly does not work here, so a comma does not work, either.
Try that again on the expression "small down arrow." In describing such an arrow verbally, would you ever say "the small and down arrow"? The word and does not work here, and for that reason, there should not be a comma betweensmall and down.
When I was a copyeditor on scientific journals, we used to talk about the "makes no difference" concept. The idea was that if it makes no difference in meaning whether you put a hyphen in versus leave it out, then leave it out. I think this concept works well on "upper right corner." Does it matter whether the reader perceives this as meaning the "upper rightcorner" (the upper one of the right corners) or the "upperright corner" (the upper right one of the corners)? No. Either way, the reader arrives at the upper corner on the right-hand side. Upper andright apply to the word corner equally. So there is no need to hyphenate upper and right to force the reader to join them together.
Contrast that with the expressions "blue laundry marker" and "high priced sedan." In both of these, the way you group the words does make a difference. Let's take out the spaces to show which two words are being read more closely together. If you read these aloud, you can hear that there is a big difference between a "bluelaundry marker" (you can use it only on blue clothes!) and a "blue laundrymarker" (it marks blue on any color clothes). Likewise, there is a difference between a "highpriced sedan" and a "high pricedsedan." The first makes sense, and the second is nonsensical. What is a "pricedsedan"? In this last example, you do need to hyphenatehigh and priced to help the reader understand: a high-priced sedan.
Try this method on the following examples: If the first two words need to be read together, hyphenate. If the last two words need to be read together, leave it alone. And if it does not matter which two words are read together, also leave it alone.
- black coffee cup
- cheap jug wine
- long range plan
- orange sofa pillow
- free range chicken
- broken CD tower
- grape seed oil
- orange juice maker
- lower back pain
- red leaf lettuce
If you love Jennie's articles, you'll love her classes. Join her online and learn about Writing Effective eLearning Voiceover Scripts and eLearning: Writing Step-by-Step Scripts and Training Documents.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.