comma before 'and' [serial comma needed - Eng. speakers' experience]

piguy3

Senior Member
English - United States
I regret if there is a thread in relation to this topic somewhere in this forum. A brief search did not reveal one.

I am wondering about the opinions of other English speakers with respect to the use of commas for a series of objects.

for example: I have two apples, three pears, and seven oranges.

I always use the second comma. For me, omitting it is a punctuation error. My ninth grade English teacher, who did us the favor of actually teaching us grammar and proper punctuation (we're talking two months just on the comma) admitted that the omission of the second (or more generally, last) comma for separating a series of objects has gradually become more and more common and acceptable even in formal forms of writing: business correspondence, professional publications, etc. However, he continued (backed up by professionally published grammar texts) to view it as an unwelcome and incorrect innovation. I have held to this as well. I cannot say that I am sure it is an innovation of some recent origin, but I do harbor a strong disaffection for it.

However, I am interested in the opinions and experience of others. In previous years, was the omission of the last comma as common and acceptable as it is now? Was this ever covered in your English classes? Has any grammarian of legitimate authority actually advocated the omission of the last comma?

Thanks.
 
  • buddingtranslator

    Senior Member
    English, England
    "I have two apples, three pears, and seven oranges."

    Those are the only commas you need. When listing objects the comma comes after each separate object. In general, I place commas where it would sound natural to have a pause in the sentence if it were spoken. That's why "I have two apples, three, pears, and seven oranges." is completely wrong.

    Best wishes,
    Budding
     

    piguy3

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    Thanks, buddingtranslator. Of course, I entirely agree. My typo obscured my entire point. Thank goodness for the edit button. Now, I hope my original post actually makes sense.
     

    buddingtranslator

    Senior Member
    English, England
    Lol, you're right the edit button is a godsend.

    It does make sense now and I agree the second comma should be included. I think the omission of the comma is acceptable however.

    BT
     

    lupei

    Senior Member
    Spain
    Hi! In English I always use the second comma, as you say. But you have to be careful, as in Spanish, amongst others, its use is incorrect. You cannot put a comma before "and". Salu2
     

    piguy3

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    That's really interesting, lupei. Thanks! I think my Spanish professors neglected to mention that one to me. I'd be really interested to hear what more people who learned English as a second language have to say about the matter. What do you English books / English classes teach you in Spain, Portugal, France, Brazil, Mexico, wherever?
     

    lupei

    Senior Member
    Spain
    Well, just the other day my english teacher told us we could use that second comma or not, she told us it was our choice. I really don't know if there is any difference, though. Interesting thread! Salu2
     

    lemmego

    Member
    Germany (German)
    If you place a comma before the 'and' in a list like this it is called an 'Oxford comma'. You can look it up on the web to find more information. It is completely optional though not very commonly seen in US English.
     

    lemmego

    Member
    Germany (German)
    I agree that the Oxford comma can be very useful for clarifying an otherwise ambiguous sentence, but I generally leave it out where it would not be an improvement. I don't think many people would put the comma in the sentence in your first post, because the meaning is perfectly clear without it.
     

    pamplemousse

    New Member
    English, Canada
    When the final comma preceeding "and" is omitted, I regard it to be a severe grammatical error. Plus, it irritates me.

    If you were to make the list without the "and", it would be "I have two apples, three pears, seven oranges." Omitting the comma in that sentence would be considered a grammatical error. The addition of "and" does not neccessarily replace the comma; it merely informs the reader that the final item of a list is due to appear, and is a fair warning to speakers reading off of a sheet for intonation.

    *edit* Also, when one is listing one item that has two parts to it, seperated by an "and" (i.e. peanut butter and jelly sandwich), there is no comma. But, because three pairs and seven oranges are not one together (as peanut butter and jelly are), then there must be a comma there to be both verbally and grammatically correct.
     

    Black_Mamba

    Member
    England,English
    The thing that annoys me is the number of people not using proper grammar due to the lack of education about it in schools over here. I was never taught the proper way to punctuate and very often in my GCSE coursework etc, my teacher never picked up on bad punctuation or spelling mistakes. How are students able to learn the English Language if they are not taught the basics? It was the same for my French lessons, grammar was not the top priority to learn at GCSE level, so when I got to AS, my teacher was dumbfounded because the class were not able to use the simple forms of to be and to have. The education system in this country is appalling, and I don't blame the teachers. It's a disgrace. Rant over!
     

    pamplemousse

    New Member
    English, Canada
    Black_Mamba said:
    The thing that annoys me is the number of people not using proper grammar due to the lack of education about it in schools over here. I was never taught the proper way to punctuate and very often in my GCSE coursework etc, my teacher never picked up on bad punctuation or spelling mistakes. How are students able to learn the English Language if they are not taught the basics? It was the same for my French lessons, grammar was not the top priority to learn at GCSE level, so when I got to AS, my teacher was dumbfounded because the class were not able to use the simple forms of to be and to have. The education system in this country is appalling, and I don't blame the teachers. It's a disgrace. Rant over!

    Yes, I agree. Though we do not live in the same country, or continent for that matter, our education system, especially regarding english and grammar is faulty. Many of my peers still do not know the difference between "they're", "their", and "there".
     

    DaleC

    Senior Member
    My own belief is as follows: that the omission of the comma before the last item in a list is an innovation that arose in the late 1970s or early to 1980s; that it caught on big by the mid 1980s; and that starting about ten years ago, it started to wane. I think it's illogical myself; I never gave up this comma.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The education system here taught the omission of the last comma long before the 70s. OK, I confess, back in the 50s:)

    This may be AE/BE again.
    It may be useful to check a style guide - I often refer to The Economist.
     

    whatonearth

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    I agree with panjandrum et al, I do not put the second comma in (i.e. "I have two apples, three pears and seven oranges"). The 'and' is a connector, therefore the additional comma is superflous. It's very strange to see that people are annoyed to see the second comma omitted, when I find it a little annoying when it is included! How odd... ;-)
     

    television

    New Member
    English - US
    It seems there are two options. You can either be strict and follow the rules of an authority or set of authorities. Someone at some point said that comma had to be there and so it must be there forever. Or you can be a little more fluid and utilise the comma only when the meaning of the sentence is compromised by its absence. I suggest that those with a strong grasp of the language follow the second course and those without, the first. In my opinion the presence of the comma in the given sentence is ugly and unnecessary.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I have not come across a set of guidelines for punctuation that required the comma before and in all lists. It creates an artificial and unnecessary clunk in the sentence.
     
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