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  1. #1
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    Default Is it proper to use a comma before the word and?

    As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I am not an english major which is one of the reasons I am here.

    I am 50 years old and for many, many years I would not use a comma before the word "and". I believe I was taught this in school.

    Consider the following statement as an example.
    "I would like Alice, Tom, Dick and Harry to move to the back of the room."

    However, I am finding it increasingly common for many writers to place a comma after the name Dick and before the word "and".

    I suppose things could have changed over the years; have they changed or have I been in error all of these years?

    Incidently, if you were to plug the sentence with or without the comma in Microsoft Word, no error is flagged.

    Any comments?

    Last edited by word; 06-Feb-2007 at 22:11. Reason: used wrong word

  2. #2
    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Is it proper to use a comma before the word and?

    Hello Word

    1. I would like Alice, Tom, Dick, and Harry to do X.
    2. I would like Alice, Tom, Dick and Harry to do X.

    The extra comma in #1 is called the "serial" or "Oxford" comma (because it occurs in "series", and because it's favoured by the Oxford University Press). Till about 60 years ago, you would almost always find the serial comma in a list of this kind.

    In the UK, it has largely fallen out of favour; you rarely see it in business correspondence, magazines, newspapers, etc. But it does still survive in the book trade, especially in publishing houses such as OUP, Penguin, etc.

    I'm not so sure about US usage, though I do tend to see the serial comma in US academic publications, etc. (but not so often in newspapers and magazines). To judge by website usage, US users are more likely to use the serial comma than British users.

    If you google on "serial comma", you can find much heated discussion on the subject. Sometimes the extra comma is necessary to avoid ambiguity; but on the whole, it seems to be a question of personal preference.

    All the best,

    MrP

    PS: I like the screen name. I'm surprised no one had thought of that one.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Is it proper to use a comma before the word and?

    Thank you very much MrP.

    I live in the US of A (a long lost term) and as I have mentioned earlier, the extra comma is indeed used quite often.

    I will search on "serial comma" just to satisfy my own curiosity. I will also, continue to structure my sentences without the extra comma since you have given me the choice .

    Quite frankly, it appears to me that the extra comma would make the sentence ambiguous and rather redundant since its purpose here is to convey more to come in a series.

    Now, I understand why there is such a debate over this small issue. It is easy to get absorbed into it. I thought it was just me.

    Again, I thank you for enlightening me and most certainly for your time.

    Word

    P.S. I was pleasantly surprised to get the screen name of "Word" myself and it was on my first attempt.


  4. #4
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    Default Re: Is it proper to use a comma before the word and?

    Wow Wee!

    I've completed my search on "serial commas" and there were some compelling arguments in favor of the extra comma.

    I'm afraid I will have to recant about the extra comma making a sentence ambiguous. It now appears to indeed be necessary to make the sentence clear. Of course, this comes into play depending on how you decide to structure the sentence.

    Hopefully, I won't sound wishy washy when I say "I will use the comma selectively, interchangeably and discreetly where applicable".

    Did I say that? H-m-m, perhaps I should get into politics and run for office.

  5. #5
    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Is it proper to use a comma before the word and?

    I'm firmly in the "wishy washy" camp myself, when it comes to serial commas. The only thing you can depend on is that whether you put one in or leave it out, someone somewhere will be raising an eyebrow...

    MrP

  6. #6
    APoeticTurtle is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Is it proper to use a comma before the word and?

    what about non-serial commas? I am having an issue with a California state law that has a comma where, I believe, a semicolon should be or where there should be no comma. here it is: CA gov code 53150

    "Any person who is under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug, whose negligent operation of a motor vehicle caused by that influence proximately causes any incident resulting in an appropriate emergency response, and any person whose intentionally wrongful conduct proximately causes any incident resulting in an appropriate emergency response, is liable for the expense of an emergency response by a public agency to the incident."

    the first set of commas are not part of a serial comma situation, but rather seem to be used properly. The last comma seems to define the and as an "also" instead of and "or" as was intended

  7. #7
    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Is it proper to use a comma before the word and?

    Hello APT,

    I agree that "and any person whose intentionally wrongful conduct..." provides an alternative subject for "is liable".

    (I would not object to the comma myself, I have to admit.)

    All the best,

    MrP

    Not a professional ESL teacher.

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