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Thread: serial commas

  1. #1
    Unregistered Guest

    Default serial commas

    I'm helping a writer who likes to use "and" between nouns without commas. Example:

    She was petite and fit and sensible.

    Should commas be used after petite and fit, or not? Or should this form be avoided? This is for American English. Thanking you in advance for your help.

  2. #2
    TheParser is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: serial commas

    Quote Originally Posted by Unregistered View Post
    I'm helping a writer who likes to use "and" between nouns without commas. Example:

    She was petite and fit and sensible.

    Should commas be used after petite and fit, or not? Or should this form be avoided? This is for American English. Thanking you in advance for your help.
    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****

    Good afternoon.

    (1) There are usually three "correct" ways to punctuate that sentence:

    (a) She was petite and fit and sensible.

    (i) People usually don't speak or write like this often.

    (ii) It's fine occasionally. It certainly gets one's attention, doesn't it!

    (b) She was petite, fit, and sensible.

    (c) She was petite, fit and sensible.

    (i) Nowadays, probably most Americans prefer (c). They ask: why use an unnecessary comma?

    (ii) But everyone agrees that you need to use a comma if it is necessary to avoid confusion.

    (a) One book gives this example: There were blue, green, and red flags.

    If you did not put a comma after "green," then that would mean one flag was a combination of two colors:

    There were blue, green and red flags. That is, one blue flag; one green and red flag.

    So if you are speaking about three different flags with its own color, then it would be better to use the second comma.

    Have a nice day!

  3. #3
    corum is offline Banned
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    Default Re: serial commas

    Quote Originally Posted by Unregistered View Post
    I'm helping a writer who likes to use "and" between nouns without commas. Example:

    She was petite and fit and sensible.

    Should commas be used after petite and fit, or not? Or should this form be avoided? This is for American English. Thanking you in advance for your help.
    This is also correct grammar:

    She was petite, fit, sensible. -- asyndentic coordination

  4. #4
    Raymott's Avatar
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    Default Re: serial commas

    Quote Originally Posted by corum View Post
    This is also correct grammar:

    She was petite, fit, sensible. -- asyndentic coordination
    Yes, correct, but better not used by learners. Firstly, they are liable to be marked wrong in essays, and secondly because it encourages run-on sentences - the fancy name notwithstanding.

  5. #5
    Allen165 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: serial commas

    Quote Originally Posted by TheParser View Post
    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****

    Good afternoon.

    (1) There are usually three "correct" ways to punctuate that sentence:

    (a) She was petite and fit and sensible.

    (i) People usually don't speak or write like this often.

    (ii) It's fine occasionally. It certainly gets one's attention, doesn't it!

    (b) She was petite, fit, and sensible.

    (c) She was petite, fit and sensible.

    (i) Nowadays, probably most Americans prefer (c). They ask: why use an unnecessary comma?

    (ii) But everyone agrees that you need to use a comma if it is necessary to avoid confusion.

    (a) One book gives this example: There were blue, green, and red flags.

    If you did not put a comma after "green," then that would mean one flag was a combination of two colors:

    There were blue, green and red flags. That is, one blue flag; one green and red flag.

    So if you are speaking about three different flags with its own color, then it would be better to use the second comma.

    Have a nice day!
    I would have never reached the conclusion that "There were blue, green and red flags" means that there were only two flags: one blue flag and one green and red flag.

    I think it would be interesting to ask random people on the street how they understand that sentence. I don't mean to offend you, but I would venture to say that most people would understand the sentence as I did, namely, that there were at least three flags. If one wanted to make it clear that there were two flags, the sentence should be rephrased.

    For example: There was a blue flag and a flag with green and red colors.

    Imagine saying "There were blue, green, and red flags" to someone. You'd have to either make a hell of a pause before "and" or put a lot of emphasis on it. My point is that it's not adequate to use a comma to indicate how many flags there were; there are clearer ways of doing this.

    I hope you won't be insulted by anything I've said in this post.

    Take care
    Last edited by Allen165; 02-May-2010 at 12:29.

  6. #6
    aziz abd's Avatar
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    Default Re: serial commas

    Quote Originally Posted by Unregistered View Post
    I'm helping a writer who likes to use "and" between nouns without commas. Example:

    She was petite and fit and sensible.

    Should commas be used after petite and fit, or not? Or should this form be avoided? This is for American English. Thanking you in advance for your help.
    She was petite, fit and sensible.

  7. #7
    TheParser is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: serial commas

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****

    Good morning, Jasmin.

    (1) Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

    (2) Of course, I was NOT "offended" or "insulted" by your remarks.

    (3) Anyone who has the "nerve" to answer a question should remember:

    (a) S/he may give the wrong answer. That's why we non-teachers are required to start with the "Not a Teacher" disclaimer.


    (b) When it comes to language, everyone -- teachers and non-teachers -- should be SUPER humble -- especially those who THINK they know everything.

    (4) The "flag" example was given in the book as somethng to avoid in writing. As you correctly pointed out, in conversation you would explain that idea in a different way (probably using more words). Of course, in writing, we are taught to be economical with words.

    Thanks again. And thanks for all your great questions. They are so difficult that I rarely dare try to contribute. All I can do is to read others' responses.

    Thank you.

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