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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Comma before and in a List? Errors with Conjunctions

Errors with Conjunctions

Conjunctions do not normally cause serious errors, but writers are sometimes confused about when to place a comma before a conjunction. Unfortunately, there is no simple rule, such as: Never put a comma before and.

The guidelines are explained in the lesson 
Conjunctions and Commas.

Comma before and in a List?

Most lists look like this:


·         Thing, another thing, another thing, and the final thing.
The conjunction sits before the final thing. In this case, it's the word and. The big question is whether the comma before the and is right or wrong.

When there are just two list items, there is no need for a comma before the conjunction. For example:


·         Thing and the final thing.
(No comma is required because it is a list containing just two list items.)
Here's a real example:


·         I know George and Toby.
(No comma required before the and.)
The whole world is agreed on not needing a comma with just two list items. 

However, when there are more than two list items, the world is divided on whether there should be a comma. There is no right answer. You have to pick a convention and stick with it.

The comma before the conjunction is called an 
Oxford Comma. Some people consider the Oxford Comma to be a waste of ink, while others strongly campaign for its inclusion. In general terms, the Oxford Comma is more common in the US than it is in the UK (despite it being called the Oxford Comma).

Followers of the Oxford Comma
(generally Americans)
Avoiders of the Oxford Comma
(generally Brits)
·        I went to the shop for eggs and butter
(There is no need for a comma with just two list items.)
She went to the shop for eggs, milk, and butter.
She went to the shop for eggs, milk and butter. 
Carl, David, and Sarah were all there.
Carl, David and Sarah were all there.
·        I went to the shop for eggs and butter. 
(There is no need for a comma with just two list items.)
She went to the shop for eggs, milk, and butter. 
Carl, David, and Sarah were all there. 
Carl, David and Sarah were all there.



There is another quirk. On occasion, it may be appropriate to use a comma with the conjunction in a simple list (even a list with just two list items). This could be for the sake of tidiness or to eliminate ambiguity. For example:


·         The news will be shown after Dangermouse, and Rug Rats. 
(Without the comma, people could think that Dangermouse and Rug Rats is one programme.)
·         The train will stop at Watford, Harrow, Pinner, Watford, and Bushey.
(Watford and Bushey could be one place, like Bath and Wells.)
·         The emblem is an amalgamation of the British and Irish flags, the Stars and Stripes, and the Hammer and Sickle. 
(The word and appears lots of times in this example. The comma before theand makes it easier for the reader to identify the list items.)

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