Serial Commas

The old way of listing items was not to put a comma before the final conjunction.

Example:

Her favourite foods were pasta, salad, fish and avocados.

But fish and avocados don’t really belong together the way salt and pepper do, so the trend has been to add an extra comma to make this clear. The following way has become accepted.

When you list three or more items in a series, a comma should appear before the conjunction.

Here are some examples:

Her favourite foods were pasta, salad, fish, and avocados.

I chopped wood, George put it in the wheelbarrow, and Sam stacked it in the woodshed.

If two of the items belong together (like bread and butter or macaroni and cheese) there is no comma between them.

Example:

Her favourite foods were salad, fish, macaroni and cheese, and avocados.

Or:

Her favourite foods were salad, fish, avocados, and macaroni and cheese.

If your sentence contains a series whose elements are all joined by conjunctions like “and,” “or,” or “but,” no commas are needed, although you might want to put them in if the elements are long.

Example:

Turn left on Torrance and immediately turn right on Lazo and then go straight ahead for about half a mile until you get to my road, or take a taxi and avoid all that frustration.

One annoying thing I have noticed writers do when they make a list is to leave out the final conjunction before the last item.

Example:

Her favourite foods were pasta, salad, fish, avocados.

 (Please don’t do this. Just put that “and” in front of avocados and make me happy.)

Her favourite foods were pasta, salad, fish, and avocados.

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22 thoughts on “Serial Commas

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