EN: X, Y(,) and Z - serial comma in a list

broglet

Senior Member
English - England
"A show kit is a plastic bin containing all the tools, hardware, and accessories you need to perform your booth setup."
bonne idée - mais pas de virgule avant 'and' ici


Moderator note: This discussion was split from another thread. Other threads were later merged here.
 
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  • BAlfson

    Senior Member
    USA - anglais
    Ce n'est plus le cas. I think the rule changed over 50 years ago, LL. It's no longer "A, B, and C" now, it's "A, B and C" now.

    Cheers - Bob
     

    broglet

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Quelle est la règle SVP broglet? Je pensais qu'en anglais, s'il s'agissait d'une liste, que le dernier mot précédé de "and" devait avoir une virgule. Ce n'est pas le cas?
    jamais de virgule avant 'and' sauf pour éviter une éventuelle ambiguïté, eg: 'for breakfast I have bacon and eggs, and coffee'
     

    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    You can find a partial list of existing discussions of the so-called "Oxford comma" in this post by cycloneviv. And here is the relevant (lack of) guidance from MWDEU:
    There is also a good deal of comment on the use or nonuse of a comma before the coordinating conjunction in a series of three or more. In spite of all the discussion, practice boils down to the writer’s personal preference, or sometimes a house or organizational style. Additional comment is not needed.
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    So, in short, some insist on using the comma, while others insist on omitting it. :rolleyes::p

    I guess the most important point is to be consistent throughout a given book, paper, or journal—unless the comma or its absence can avoid an ambiguity.
     

    broglet

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It strikes me that the reason for avoiding a comma before 'and' at the end of a list is that the purpose of the comma is to indicate a pause, and there is normally no pause before the final 'and' in a list (but I did want to indicate a pause before the highlighted 'and' in this sentence, hence the comma).
     

    BAlfson

    Senior Member
    USA - anglais
    MC said:
    So, in short, some insist on using the comma, while others insist on omitting it.
    Almost, but I agree with broglet. I had to retrain myself because I had been trained with the 1918 Elements of Style that always uses the Oxford/serial comma except with proper names. Now, the article linked to by CapnPrep describes my approach; leave it out unless needed to show a pause or to clarify; when showing the pause might cause confusion, then leave it out.

    Cheers - Bob
     

    silver lining

    Member
    French - Canada
    Happy New Year, everyone!

    I have a basic English punctuation question: would you put a comma before “and” if another “and” (or coordinating conjunction) is already being used in the same sentence? Here are a couple of examples:

    I ate an apple, a banana and an orange and went back for some ice cream.
    I ate an apple, a banana and an orange, and went back for some ice cream.

    This product is contraindicated in all cases not associated with diabetes and where there is evidence of low iron levels and in patients with suspected hypersensitivity to any of its components.
    This product is contraindicated in all cases not associated with diabetes and where there is evidence of low iron levels, and in patients with suspected hypersensitivity to any of its components.

    Is the comma before the second "and" optional in these cases? Is it simply a matter of adding it for the sake of legibility or does it serve a grammatical purpose? I would use one in French, but I’m not sure the same rule applies in English.

    Thanks!
     

    djweaverbeaver

    Senior Member
    English Atlanta, GA USA
    Hello,

    First off, I would place a serial comma after banana, but this is not such a big deal, and I don't know if this is a case in which American and Canadian English differ.

    To answer your question, there is no comma needed in either case because the and is not connecting two independent sentences. I ate an apple, a banana and an orange is a complete sentence whereas went back for some ice cream is not. I comma could be added (and usually is) if the sentence read I ate an apple, a banana and an orange, and I went back for some ice cream. Also there is no ambiguity of meaning that would warrant adding a comma for clarity.

    The same explanations go for your second example, although stylistically one could argue adding it helps give the reader a brief pause in such a long passage. I might even add commas in the following way: This product is contraindicated in all cases not associated with diabetes, and where there is evidence of low iron levels, and in patients with suspected hypersensitivity to any of its components.

    I hope this helps.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    Like dj, I prefer serial commas (in my case, I vastly prefer them). With these sentences (edited to include serial commas):
    I ate an apple, a banana, and an orange and went back for some ice cream.
    I ate an apple, a banana, and an orange, and went back for some ice cream.
    ... the red comma is optional. I would include it, because the "and" feels like it would have a pause before it if I said it out loud. The second case is a bit more complex. I think that dj introduces an error into the sentence by re-punctuating it:
    This product is contraindicated in all cases not associated with diabetes, andwhere there is evidence of low iron levels, and in patients with suspected hypersensitivity to any of its components.
    I think the sentence without "and" should run:
    This product is contraindicated in all cases not associated with diabetes, in cases where there is evidence of low iron levels, and in patients with suspected hypersensitivity to any of its components.
    (The logic is "... in cases of the kinds A and B and also​ in patients with C.") With longer phrases, more commas are almost always desirable, because they help show the underlying organization of the sentence to the reader. So here again I prefer more commas to fewer.
     

    djweaverbeaver

    Senior Member
    English Atlanta, GA USA
    ... The second case is a bit more complex. I think that dj introduces an error into the sentence by re-punctuating it...
    Your correction is a vast improvement. I stared at this for a good while trying to figure out a way to improve the stylistics of the sentence and to add clarity, but I wasn't too happy with the outcome. A great suggestion, indeed.
     

    silver lining

    Member
    French - Canada
    Thank you both for your input; it was greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much leeway when it came to tweaking the contents of the second sentence to improve its stylistics, and I submitted the sentence as is, sans additional comma. It’s very technical speech anyways, so I don’t think proper understanding of this sentence hinges solely on the use of the comma. For future reference, however, I’ll know that although the comma isn’t required before "and" in this context since the conjunction isn’t connecting two independent clauses, it can nevertheless be added to bring clarity to a long-winded sentence. Thanks again!
     

    silver lining

    Member
    French - Canada
    Hello all,

    I have, yet again, a question regarding the possible use of a serial comma. Here is the sentence that’s bugging me:

    You will receive a booklet offering tips on exercise and nutrition and information about vascular disease.

    My question has to do with the addition of a comma before "and information". I don't think this would fit the bill for a serial comma, since this list isn't actually made up of three items, but rather of two ("tips" and "information"), one of which (the former) is expanded with the addition of the prepositional phrase "on exercise and nutrition". However, my gut tells me a comma before the second "and" would greatly aid in guiding the reader’s interpretation of the sentence and indicate that "information" and "tips" are on the same level (we’re not dealing with "tips on information").

    Would anyone care to share his or her thoughts on this matter?


    As always, thank you all for your help!
     
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    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I think this is another situation where rewriting is the best solution. You're correct that there should be no comma with "and," since this is a list of only two items. But the reader gets annoyed with the "X and Y and Z" construction. Either change to...

    You will receive a booklet offering information about vascular disease and tips on exercise and nutrition.

    or...

    You will receive a booklet offering tips on exercise and nutrition, as well as information about vascular disease.

    Either A) change the order so the and's don't stack (thus breaking the series of un-comma'd and's) or B) rewrite the sentence so that it doesn't use a coordinating conjunction (and thus can accept a comma).
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    I like Lucas-sp's suggestions. :thumbsup:

    Note however that if you insist on using and almost twice in a row (X and Y and Z), I would personally add a comma before the second occurrence to clarify the sentence as per Bob's tip:
    leave it out unless needed to show a pause or to clarify
    tips on exercise and nutrition, and information about
     
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