I'm drafting an internal standard on internal documentation covering third-party products or services in my organization.

Documentation covering third-party products or services SHOULD NOT:

  • Include specific details or information already covered in official third-party documentation—to avoid plagiarism or the spread of misinformation when official third-party documentation is updated and internal documentation is not

One of my team members submitted an edit to change:

official third-party documentation


official, third-party documentation

I disagreed with him—my argument being that "official" in this context is an adjective and adding a comma would change the meaning.

Should I add a comma after the word "official" in "official third-party documentation"?

  • Is it the third party or the documentation that is official? – profane tmesis Jan 2 '20 at 18:46
  • @PTm In this case, I think the documentation is "official". For example: AWS is the third-party and AWS Documentation (docs.aws.amazon.com/index.html) is the official documentation for the AWS third-party service. – Ryan Payne Jan 2 '20 at 19:03

There are two adjectives in this phrase that modify the word documentation: official and third-party. If they are coordinating adjectives, a comma is required. If they are cumulative adjectives, no comma is necessary.

There are two tests to determine if adjectives before a noun are coordinating adjectives:

  1. Can you replace such a comma with the coordinating conjunction "and"?
  2. Can you flip the adjectives without altering the meaning?

In this case, "third-party, official documentation" doesn't work. It suggests that third-party documentation is its own thing, like fire truck or Christmas tree. The adjectives are, then, cumulative adjectives, and no comma is required (see Commas with Adjectives).

  • 2
    Everything @Thom Chittom said, but additionally, I would add this link to a reference of the order of adjectives in the English language: gingersoftware.com/content/grammar-rules/adjectives/… I know of other languages that actually don't have this restriction, but for English it matters. In conjunction with Thom's response as well as the order of adjectives reference, I would call official a #2 type adjective (Quality or opinion) and third‑party a # 7 adjective (Proper adjective). – aaiezza Jan 2 '20 at 18:49
  • I very much like the addition in your article of why commas or conjunctions occur when multiple adjectives are modifying a noun. Thank you for sharing. – Thom Chittom Jan 2 '20 at 19:33

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