A frequent source of confusion is whether or not to use commas after the adjectives that precede a noun.
The rule is to use a comma after each coordinating adjective or word, but not after cumulative adjectives. If you can insert an and between the adjectives without changing the meaning, they are coordinate.
A simpler way of expressing this is:
- Use a comma to separate two or more adjectives, adverbs, or phrases that modify the same word or phrase.
- Do not use a comma between two adjectives if the first adjective modifies the combination of the second adjective and the noun that follows.
The following sentences illustrate the points:
- The long, black limousine slowly pulled away from the curb.
- Long modifies limousine, as does and black. You could insert "and" without changing the meaning.
- The yellow stucco wall of the hut came into view as he rounded the turn.
- Yellow modifies stucco wall, not wall.
- Happily, he was able to purchase a good used car.
- Good modifies used car, not car.
- It was the only freshwater lake in the region.
- Only modifies freshwater lake, not lake.
- For his birthday, she prepared a rich chocolate layer cake.
- Layer modifies cake, chocolate modifies layer cake, and rich modifies chocolate layer cake.
- He spoke in a quiet, relaxed manner.
- Quiet modifies manner, as does relaxed.