comma before 'and' [serial c.]: I switched..., started... and went...

vtg81

Senior Member
Italian
Hello

I'm taking this test:

Which of these sentences is WRONG?
A) I switched on the computer, started up Explore and went to my favourite Web site.
B) I switched on the computer started up Explore, and went to my favourite Web site.
C) I switched on the computer, started up Explore, and went to my favourite Web site.
D) I switched on the computer started up Explore and went to my favourite Web site.

I think answer A is the only correct answer. Am I right?

Thank you in advance
 
  • Qomi

    Senior Member
    Turkland/Turkish
    Hello

    I'm taking this test:

    Which of these sentences is WRONG?
    A) I switched on the computer, started up Explore and went to my favourite Web site.
    B) I switched on the computer started up Explore, and went to my favourite Web site.
    C) I switched on the computer, started up Explore, and went to my favourite Web site.
    D) I switched on the computer started up Explore and went to my favourite Web site.

    I think answer A is the only correct answer. Am I right?

    Thank you in advance

    As far as I know, comma is optional before the word "and" or "or". So, A and C seem correct to me.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Is this sentence OK?
    I switched on the computer and went to my favourite website.

    I think it is.

    If so, then the inserted text "started up Explorer" is an aside, a section of text that is not essential, and should be surrounded by commas.

    Have a look at the punctuation guides listed in the sticky at the top of this forum.
    HERE for example.

    ____________________

    In a list like this, the second comma may be omitted if your style allows (which makes A acceptable).
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Had the phrase been "starting up Explorer", I would have called it an aside. As it stands, it is the second thing "I" did in a list of three things.

    Some would punctuate this sentence as in A, but I prefer C for two reasons:

    1. The comma before and helps me to see as soon as possible that it is a list of three things of the same function and level within the sentence. Otherwise I would have to determine that upon reaching the period/full stop.

    2. When I read it out loud, I indicate the same thing via rhythm, with "switched", "computer", "started", "Explorer", "went", and "Web" at nearly equal time intervals, and a slight rise of the voice at the end of each item in the list except the last.

    The theory that a comma and the word and serve the same function does not describe the way I speak, listen, or read.

    Be aware that different publishers have different standards/policies concerning the presence or absence of the comma before a coordinating conjunction that is meant to introduce the last item in a list of more than two things.
     

    MenteECuoreProgressista

    Member
    English - United States
    Hello

    I'm taking this test:

    Which of these sentences is WRONG?
    A) I switched on the computer, started up Explore and went to my favourite Web site.
    B) I switched on the computer started up Explore, and went to my favourite Web site.
    C) I switched on the computer, started up Explore, and went to my favourite Web site.
    D) I switched on the computer started up Explore and went to my favourite Web site.

    I think answer A is the only correct answer. Am I right?

    Thank you in advance

    It's often useful to use option C, because it prevents any ambiguity or misunderstandings. However, I believe that both A and C are grammatically correct.
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    This difference in the use of serial commas is one of the lessons I've learned here at the Forum. There is much difference between BE and AE, and even between the old way and the new way of teaching English in America.

    When I was in school, you used that second comma when you listed a series of actions. So I would say only C is correct. I think kids today are learning that A is more acceptable.

    From my British friends here, I've learned that's the way they've always done it.

    I just can't bring myself to do it, though. The nuns were adamant you put in that second comma.

    The younger editors and agents also hate that second comma. And they go a step further and tell writers when submitting, "Don't use it!" And don't use it in sentences that end in , as well or , too.

    I'm sorry. It just looks, feels, and sounds wrong. How many of you would not use the second comma in this sentence?

    AngelEyes
     

    Basil Ganglia

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I'm sorry. It just looks, feels, and sounds wrong. How many of you would not use the second comma in this sentence?

    AngelEyes
    When I was in English composition class in the US Upper Midwest in the 1960s I was taught the second comma was optional. I've always used it because it eliminates ambiguity.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    For a fuller discussion of whether to place a comma before and in a list please see:
    Comma and And - featuring the Harvard/Oxford comma.

    I wonder, though, if the topic sentence is a list?
    Is it the same kind of list as "I bought apples, pears and bananas"?

    In the list of fruit each element is of equal significance.
    In the topic sentence the reference to Explorer is an aside.
    That would probably make me punctuate the topic sentence with two commas, the list of fruit with one.
     

    Basil Ganglia

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    For a fuller discussion of whether to place a comma before and in a list please see:
    Comma and And - featuring the Harvard/Oxford comma.

    I wonder, though, if the topic sentence is a list?
    Is it the same kind of list as "I bought apples, pears and bananas"?

    In the list of fruit each element is of equal significance.
    In the topic sentence the reference to Explorer is an aside.
    That would probably make me punctuate the topic sentence with two commas, the list of fruit with one.
    Starting up Explorer doesn't seem to me to be an aside. Explorer doesn't automatically start when the computer starts, which means starting Explorer is a separate step of the same significance as starting the computer and going to the web site. If any one of those steps is omitted, the writer does not reach the web site.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Starting up Explorer doesn't seem to me to be an aside. Explorer doesn't automatically start when the computer starts, which means starting Explorer is a separate step of the same significance as starting the computer and going to the web site. If any one of those steps is omitted, the writer does not reach the web site.
    It's a matter of perspective and if I saw the sentence as Basil sees it I would use only one comma.
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    It's a matter of perspective and if I saw the sentence as Basil sees it I would use only one comma.

    Panj,

    Even expecting the different perspectives, this is one I just can't change on in my writing. :) It's too ingrained.

    And in this specific sentence:
    I switched on the computer started up Explore and went to my favourite Web site.

    There's no way you can do this in another sequence, so it's a simple decision in my mind. You use the serial comma to build the sentence.

    But I understand now after being around here everyone has different opinions. ;)

    The only way I can see to do it another way is:

    I switched on the computer and started up Explorer and went to my favorite site.

    Written like this, I probably wouldn't use any commas at all. In fact, this would be my preference, if I had a choice. We use too many stupid commas, anyway.

    AngelEyes
     

    rich7

    Senior Member
    Venezuela español
    As a translator, I was taught to place commas before every item in a listing, in order to get rid of any possible ambiguity. The ultimate goal in a piece of writing should be the reader not the author's style, at least that's my opinion.
     

    Welshie

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I would write C. I would also avoid capitalising "Web", and I assume the browser in question is actually "Explorer". But anyway, I would write C. I know you're not supposed to place commas according to where you pause when you speak, but that's what most people do anyway in my experience. A is correct also but reads uncomfortably to me. B and D are wrong.
     

    rich7

    Senior Member
    Venezuela español
    In order to disambiguate a clause, it is advisable to place commas wherever it is possible, so letter C is the most appropriate choice in this case.
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    There is no ambiguity in sentence A, so the second comma used in sentence C is superfluous and in my opinion, inelegant to the point of ugliness. It's like writing "and and".

    I agree with Basil Ganglia, who sees it as a list of things, with the "and" before the final item making a comma unnecessary. Starting Explorer is a necessary step in the sequence, not an aside. It's not the same as saying "I started up the computer, went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, and then went to my favourite website".
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    Surely you don't mean 'I bought ,peas ,carrots ,beans and ,leeks'?

    Rover

    That's not what he meant at all.

    I bought peas, carrots, beans, and leeks.

    There's more than one thread here where this comma issue has been bandied about. Just accept the fact that different countries learn the comma different ways.

    If I can grit my teeth and accept not seeing that comma, everyone can grit theirs and accept seeing mine.

    In the U.S., different areas learn it differently. Different generations do, too.

    I'm curious. Does that last comma bother any of you? This has been mentioned in other threads here, as well. Couldn't resist that one - or this one, either.

    AngelEyes
     

    languageGuy

    Senior Member
    USA and English
    There is no ambiguity in sentence A, so the second comma used in sentence C is superfluous and in my opinion, inelegant to the point of ugliness. It's like writing "and and".

    Wow!! I find it very ambiguous without the comma. I guess that's why there is so much controversy surrounding this. It is difficult to access ambiguity when you are the author. I think it is more important to consider how your readers will feel.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    This particular sentence is not ambiguous, but that is not evident to me until I get to the end of the sentence and realize there is no more. Missing out the comma is forgivable here, and knowing that BE students are taught the comma is actually wrong, I can take the "u" in "favourite" as another clue as to the intended structure.

    As for my own writing, since writing a comma in such a position in a list can sometimes serve to disambiguate, I am most comfortable writing it as a matter of course, just as I write "greenhouse" when I don't mean "green house", even where context rules out "house green in color" as a possibility. This seems natural to me since I generally stress "greenhouse" differently that "green house" when speaking, even when context makes the meaning unambiguous.

    I do inflect my voice and space my phrases to indicate more than two parallel items in a list, whether or not the last has an "and". (I don't normally pause for a comma between list items, but if I pause for one, I generally pause for all in the same list and would pause before the "and" with the last item.)

    I write the following differently because I pronounce them differently and the meaning is different:

    I bought beans, (and) leeks, (and) peas and carrots.
    I bought beans, (and) leeks, (and) peas, (and) carrots.

    Commas mean lots of things, so I don't think "and" every time I see a comma.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I'm not sure about Forero's difference in meaning. His second sentence is missing "and" before carrots and I don't know if that is deliberate.
    Assuming that it is not deliberate, because without that and the sentence is surely wrong, the two sentences are:
    I bought beans, leeks, peas and carrots.
    I bought beans, leeks, peas, and carrots.

    I'm curious because I don't see any difference in meaning.
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    Panj, in the U.S., peas and carrots are very often packaged together and sold as one vegetable item.

    Forero, I thought the same thing when I wrote out that sentence. You can really take that pair two ways.

    While it's also true other vegetables are sold in combinations, peas and carrots are just accepted sometimes as a natural grouping - kind of like love and marriage. :)

    So we'd write it both ways and understand the subtle difference.

    AngelEyes
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    A) I switched on the computer, started up Explore and went to my favourite Web site.
    B) I switched on the computer started up Explore, and went to my favourite Web site.
    C) I switched on the computer, started up Explore, and went to my favourite Web site.
    D) I switched on the computer started up Explore and went to my favourite Web site.
    I'm curious about two things, which may be related:

    1. Panj's statement that he prefers C because 'started up Explore' is an aside, a parenthesis:
    Panj. said:
    Is this sentence OK?
    I switched on the computer and went to my favourite website.

    I think it is.

    If so, then the inserted text "started up Explorer" is an aside, a section of text that is not essential, and should be surrounded by commas.
    Now, for me, the lively question here is 'Does Explorer start up when you switch on the computer?' On my computer you boot up and then click the Explorer logo to start that up if you want to surf. So, although the sentence could stand alone and be meaningful with 'started up Explorer' removed, an important part of the meaning would be lost, because I have to do something extra to start Explorer. If, however, Explorer starts automatically when you boot up, the 'started up Explorer' would become an aside, in my view.

    'He walked into the room, told me I could marry his daughter, and left by the door into the garden' - the 'told me I could marry his daughter' is hardly an aside.

    This is suggesting, of course, that the 'can-be-removed-without-making-the-sentence-meaningless' criterion is a necessary condition for something being an aside rather than a sufficient one.

    2. A number of people have said that removal or addition of commas alters the meaning of the sentence, that the sentence can be punctuated differently to indicate these different meanings. I'm not saying that this isn't true but I wish these people had indicated the different meanings they saw associated with the different punctuations.

    If you want to put a comma after computer, I think, for the same reason, you want a comma after Explore, so I'd put either C or D.
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I think A is the best, but if you like the "Harvard comma" then C is what you would write. I don't agree with Panj that the "explorer" bit is an aside. I see it as just the second item in a list of three things, like "apples, pears and bananas."

    If you need the comma to avoid some kind of ambiguity, it's sometimes better to just rewrite the sentence to be less ambiguous in the first place.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    When I speak, I don't have to recast my sentences just to group things differently, even in cases of polysyndeton, asyndeton, and what I might call "flex-syndeton".

    I prefer the same flexibility, with no added danger of ambiguity, when I write the same sentences. I also prefer not to have to study an entire sentence before deciding how to resolve ambiguities in the written sentence that are not there in the spoken sentence.

    In the case of more than two things in a series, the comma provides just the mechanism I need, at least in the U.S.
     
    Last edited:

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    I know about those, and took them into account.
    If I had bought peas-and-carrots the sentence would look like this:
    I bought beans, leeks, and peas and carrots.

    If I understand Forero correctly, he uses the inflection of his voice to also make the sentence clear when speaking.

    I would say when writing this, what you have here with the peas and carrots at the end is more common.

    But if you're speaking, you could just as easily say:

    I bought peas and carrots, beans, and leeks.
    I bought beans, peas and carrots, and leeks.

    The pause when you speak would make total sense to the ear. I can hear all the different ways to say this sentence, and they all make sense to me.

    AngelEyes
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish/AE
    Hello,

    This discussion reminds me of what my old journalism professor used to say, emphatically, time and again:

    A parenthetic expression (clause, set-aside, etc.) should be enclosed between commas. It is often difficult to determine if a word or brief phrase is or is not parenthetic. If the interruption to the flow of the sentence is but slight, then the commas may be omitted. But whether the interruption is brief or considerable, one should never omit one comma and leave the other.

    With that logic in mind, I consider C correct. I just don’t want my old journalism to turn over in his grave if I chose otherwise….

    But this discussion has opened my eyes to other possibilities.
    Cheers

    P.S. Is started up explorer a set-aside? I think so, or at least an argument could be made that it is. The following makes sense to me, as Panj pointed out:

    I switched on the computer and went to my favorite Web site.

    Using a computer is so common nowadays that it is understood you start up Explorer before you go to your favorite web site. But it doesn’t hurt to add started up explorer, and I would enclose it between commas. I just wouldn’t make my view a universal rule.
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    It would be a set-aside to say "I switched on the computer, gave a deep sigh, and went to my favorite website" because the sigh is not consequential to the series of actions. However, starting up Explorer seems completely different to me. It is one of the three things you did. It's not an interruption to the flow, whereas giving a sigh is a slight interruption. Just because a sentence can stand alone and be meaningful without some of the words does not mean that the words are interruptions. I can say "I bought pears and apples at the market" and just because "I bought pears at the market" is a complete and understandable sentence does not mean that the apples are somehow extraneous to the meaning so I should say "I bought pears, and apples, at the market."
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish/AE
    It would be a set-aside to say "I switched on the computer, gave a deep sigh, and went to my favorite website" because the sigh is not consequential to the series of actions. However, starting up Explorer seems completely different to me. It is one of the three things you did. It's not an interruption to the flow, whereas giving a sigh is a slight interruption. Just because a sentence can stand alone and be meaningful without some of the words does not mean that the words are interruptions. I can say "I bought pears and apples at the market" and just because "I bought pears at the market" is a complete and understandable sentence does not mean that the apples are somehow extraneous to the meaning so I should say "I bought pears, and apples, at the market."

    I don't disagree with you at all. This discussion, as I said, has opened my eyes to the various interpretations and explanations that have been provided, yours included.

    I just wonder, though:
    Can you go to your favorite website without starting up Explorer?
    That question lead me to think of started up Explorer as a set-aside. But I wouldn't make much of an effort to defend my point of view, and what you said makes all the sense in the word to me.
    cheers
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    Well I could certainly start up Firefox instead of Explorer. That's what my daughter would tell me to do anyway! However, to me the point is actually that starting up Explorer (or Firefox) is part of a sequence of actions, so it's not a parenthetical insertion in any case. A parenthetical insertion is something that is added and that wouldn't be obvious unless it was said explicitly.
     
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