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July 2011

Well, you asked!

Martha R. asked: I get confused about when to add a comma between adjectives. I heard if you can replace the comma with “and,” the comma goes between the two adjectives. Is there an easy rule to remember?

Steph: You cited the easiest rule, Martha. A “small, red ring” is a ring that’s both small and red, so use a comma to show that. However, sometimes what looks like two adjectives is actually one adjective in front of a phrasal noun—“a wrinkled suit coat,” for instance.

Not sure if “suit coat” is a phrasal noun? That’s okay. Use the and-test: is the coat both wrinkled and suit? Nah, doesn’t make sense. Don’t use a comma.

Wordsmithing: You Can Write Better Than Her

Grammar policeOh my, did you catch the error in that title?

No? Then, kiddo, you’re in trouble with the grammar police. No use running. Their hounds can smell you out, wherever—under your desk, crouched behind your monitor, squished inside your laptop.

You reek of your crime, dude. It’s only because 95 percent of the population is equally guilty that you can’t distinguish your stench from theirs. True wordsmiths will not tolerate this malodorous comfy zone.

Book ‘em, Dano

What, exactly, is the crime? In grammar police lingo, it’s pronoun assault. You’re mixing up your objective and subjective case pronouns. Or, in layman terms, you’re using me, us, him, her, and them when you should be using I, we, he, she, and they. (Or vice versa.)

Grammar Police Gas MaskStill saying huh? Grab a bar of soap and I’ll stand outside the bathroom door and explain while you attack those underarms. Hoo.

The crime is truncating your sentence. You chopped off the ending, dude. Would you say, “You can write better than her can write”? Of course you wouldn’t! You would say, “You can write better than she can write.” Why, then, say, “You can write better than her”?

Get it? You should say, “You can write better than she.” Or “than he.” Or “than I.” Or “than we.” Or “than they.” The solution to avoiding the whole fetid problem is to just finish your sentence. For example:

  • She types faster than … I type.
  • Babies need milk more than … we need it.
  • He’s as funny as … she is.
  • We eat as much as … they eat.

The mix-up works the other way too. Sometimes, using her is correct. For instance, if Sam loves football more than he loves Suzy, you wouldn’t say, “Sam loves football more than she.” That’s the same as saying, “Sam loves football more than [he loves] she.”

Nope, now is the time to use the objective case pronoun her: “Sam loves football more than [he loves] her.”

Goodbye Grammar PoliceWell, er, unless you mean that Sam really does love football more than Suzy loves it. Then you’d be correct in saying, “Sam loves football more than she [loves football].”

Bottom line: Simply make your comparisons into complete sentences. The correct pronouns will automatically pop into place. No odor, no hounds. No grammar police, dude!


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