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a, b, and c OR a, b and c

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52 replies to this topic

#1 of 53 OFFLINE   Jason L.

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Posted October 25 2006 - 01:49 AM

For my entire life of 35+ years, I have been using the following grammar when listing multiple items:

apples, bananas, and cherries

I have noticed over the years when reading that this is not done anymore. Everyone seems to be using:

apples, bananas and cherries

Have I been wrong all these years? Is this a new phenomenon? Are both correct? What do other members of the HTF-AHL use?

Please discuss.

#2 of 53 OFFLINE   CameronJ


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Posted October 25 2006 - 01:58 AM

Both are grammatically correct. I was always taught a, b and c - but I now prefer a, b, and c. What I hate more than anything is inconsistency (yes, I'm a bit anal that way). It bugs me to read a document or report that jumps between the two.

#3 of 53 OFFLINE   Jason Seaver

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Posted October 25 2006 - 02:09 AM

I seem to recall being taught that there should not be a comma before the last item in a list because it's redundant, but started putting one in when I found situations where it made things clearer. For instance, if it's a list of pairs - "Mike and Laura, Tom and Jill, and Bob and Mary".
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#4 of 53 OFFLINE   cafink



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Posted October 25 2006 - 02:16 AM

I have always been under the impression that either is acceptable, though as Cameron suggests, consistency is important--pick whichever form you like and stick with it. Personally, I like the comma, because it can make things clearer, as Jason explained. I recall reading about an author who always included the comma, and was upset that her editor would always remove it. To spite her editor, she dedicated one of her books "to my parents, Mother Theresa, and God," which takes on quite a different meaning sans comma!


#5 of 53 OFFLINE   Holadem


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Posted October 25 2006 - 02:47 AM

Hmmm... I've always thought it was NOT acceptable to have the comma before the "and", at least in the examples cited.

I've had to ween myself of commas when writing in english - they (and punctuation is general) are far more liberally used, and are more important in french. For instance, semi-colons seem to be a rarity in english texts.

In the bit I emphasized above, the comma is reflective of my need to insert a pause between the two propositions, rather than between the elements of a list where there would be no comma.


#6 of 53 OFFLINE   MarkHastings


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Posted October 25 2006 - 03:04 AM

Jason, I agree with you - not that it's impossible to figure out, but without the comma before the 'and' (or 'or') it can get a little confusing.

For example: I was at a restaurant and the menu said...
Dinners come with: Potato, Vegetable, Soup or Salad

Now would that mean it comes with a potato, it comes with a vegetable, and then you have your choice of soup or salad? or does it mean that you choose from one of the four?

I guess if the first assumption were correct, it would have said:
Dinners come with: Potato, Vegetable, and Soup or Salad

but it just seems clearer if it said:
Dinners come with: Potato, Vegetable, Soup, or Salad

That way I know none of the choices are combined.

#7 of 53 OFFLINE   Linda Thompson

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Posted October 25 2006 - 03:28 AM

I was always taught that the final comma was NOT to be included, but that never made sense to me, so I've always chosen to use the

a, b, and c

format for all the reasons already cited.

#8 of 53 OFFLINE   Michael Warner

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Posted October 25 2006 - 03:29 AM

They can take my serial comma when they pry it from my cold dead fingers! The serial comma certainly seems to have fallen out of favor but I've always maintained that it makes for a clearer sentence in most instances. I did a lot of writing at my last job and the serial comma was strictly verboten according to their style book. It drove me crazy.
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#9 of 53 OFFLINE   Steve Y

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Posted October 25 2006 - 03:32 AM

You are referring to the infamous "Oxford Comma"!

It is hotly contested in grammatical circles! (I know - hold on to your hats, people.) Nearly everyone seems to think they know exactly when to include or not include a comma at the end of a list, but the sad truth is most of the time it's simply an aesthetic judgment.


I don't use the "serial comma" most of the time because too many grammatical marks are distracting. But depending on the context it can look fine with or without a comma.

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#10 of 53 OFFLINE   NickSo



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Posted October 25 2006 - 04:10 AM

I like to use a comma before the 'and', but my supervisor doesn't. In lists of 3, the comma goes. But more than three, he uses it. I stick to his convention. At work, anyway.

#11 of 53 OFFLINE   Christ Reynolds

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Posted October 25 2006 - 04:41 AM

i was always taught to use either way, but stick with one. CJ
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#12 of 53 OFFLINE   ChristopherDAC



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Posted October 25 2006 - 04:43 AM

Yep, it's called an "Oxford Comma", and the consensus opinion (if there is one) is that it is acceptable when useful. In other words, one shouldn't necessarily use it all the time, but it often helps to clarify the sense.

The principal function of the comma is as a separator. It's not proper to use it wherever one would pause in speech, but it should be used in parallelisms, comparisons and contrasts, and other multi-element constructions. It's improper to use a comma in a simple sentence. (It's improper to use a comma, in a simple sentence. — see how bad that is?) In a compound or complex sentence sentence, or to set off special constructions such as the parenthetical phrase, it's proper to use one or more commas. The essence of the comma is continuation.

The Oxford Usage insists on use of the Oxford comma everywhere (hence the name), even where it is not needed, because in some cases the lack of it is an ambiguity. I daresay there is no need for such a step.

#13 of 53 OFFLINE   MarkHastings


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Posted October 25 2006 - 04:47 AM

I don't know about you guys,,,,, but I prefer using lots of commas.

#14 of 53 OFFLINE   Jeff_CusBlues


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Posted October 25 2006 - 05:20 AM

I graduated from high school in 1980 and college in 1984. I was always taught to use the comma prior to the and. When I began my engineering career, I noticed that nobody was using this comma. I don't know when use of this comma ceased, but I just quit using it unless I thought it added clarity.

#15 of 53 OFFLINE   EricW



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Posted October 25 2006 - 05:54 AM

i remember this very subject in grade school as a wee lad and thought it made more sence with the comma, even though i was taught otherwise, and have used it ever since. did you know you no longer have to double space after the end of a sentence? well, screw the man!!!!
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#16 of 53 OFFLINE   Jason Kirkpatri

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Posted October 25 2006 - 06:12 AM

According to my (Canadian) english university class, it's a, b, and c.

#17 of 53 OFFLINE   nolesrule



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Posted October 25 2006 - 06:29 AM

I was originally taught that the comma before the "and" was redundant, because the "and" was the separator. The exception would be, as noted above, when clarification might be needed. The advanced grammar book I was forced to purchase for college English, which I still have, states that either way is permissible, unless you are using specific formatting style guides for your writing, such as MLA or AP, which have their own rules.

#18 of 53 ONLINE   Dennis Nicholls

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Posted October 25 2006 - 06:52 AM

I graduated from high school in 1971, and according to "Strunk & White" the use of the final comma was mandatory.

After graduating from law school in 1996, my first law firm's supervising attorneys told us not to use the final comma. Their reasoning (which makes no sense to me) was that the rules had changed, making it no longer mandatory, therefore it was now forbidden. Posted Image
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#19 of 53 OFFLINE   Bryan X

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Posted October 25 2006 - 08:45 AM

I include the final comma also.

#20 of 53 OFFLINE   Rob Gardiner

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Posted October 25 2006 - 09:41 AM

Omitting the serial comma leads to such absurdities as:

Last weekend I rented Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Melvin and Howard and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. Posted Image

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