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Q. What is the proper comma usage in describing a series of nouns with a single adjective? For example, “This spring’s collection emphasizes sexy lingerie, blouses, skirts, and mukluks.” I am devoted to the serial comma, but should a comma be included after the third item if I want the adjective to apply to all four items? I write for an online retailer and often find myself stumped by this little conundrum.
A. If the adjective applies to all four nouns, a serial comma is harmless. The problem arises if the adjective is meant to apply only to some of the nouns. In that case, the comma is the least of your worries. To avoid ambiguity, you should put only the modified nouns after the adjective: “This spring’s collection emphasizes mukluks and sexy blouses, skirts, and lingerie.”