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a. He was talking about demons and lesser mortal beings.

b. He was talking about demons and lesser, mortal beings.

Can we tell if the writer of these sentences considers 'demons' mortal beings or not?

In which case do the last three words mean: beings who are mortal and are lesser than the demons? (mortal beings who are lesser)

In which case do the last three words mean: those mortal beings who are lesser than the demons? (mortal beings**,** who are lesser)

I think (b) corresponds to the first case. Demons are immortal, and then we have mortal beings who are lesser.

I think (a) is ambiguous.

Another way to ask the question would be: what difference does the comma make?

Many thanks.

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    The comma makes clear the correct meaning, which you label (b). Its absence renders the sentence ambiguous. Jul 31, 2023 at 10:42
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    Whether it would be ambiguous in practice would depend on how you understand the hierarchy of beings (whether there are mortal beings higher than demons). So we can provide a grammatical explanation but not really say if it's ambiguous.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 31, 2023 at 10:44
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    Does this answer your question? Putting a comma between adjectives (And many other similar questions on this site.) Jul 31, 2023 at 19:30
  • Thank you all very much. That other thread, and Kaz's reply was brilliant. Would you say ' the reliable current red book' is ambiguous or simply wrong if the intended meaning is 'the current red book, which is reliable' or 'the red book, which is current and which is reliable'. I'd use commas the way Kaz says they should be used in these two cases, but I wonder if everyone follows the rule.
    – azz
    Jul 31, 2023 at 21:48

1 Answer 1

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The comma is used to separate adjectives. It makes it clear that the 'beings' are both lesser (in comparison to the aforementioned demons) and they are also mortal.

Without the comma it reads as if 'mortal beings' is a compound noun. And, because 'lesser' is a comparative term, that would mean they are lesser in comparison to other mortal beings, ie the demons.

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