Serial commas: Do you, or don’t you?

Whether you drop in a comma after the “and” or “or” in a series might be the most controversial topics among writers. So, get your swords out, because here we go …

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Invariably, my response is that I use the serial comma because the style guide I follow says to use it.

I know this is a provocative topic. I can’t think of anything that gets writers and editors more fired up than debating the pros and cons of the serial comma. And, as author Lynne Truss says, “Never get between these people when drink has been taken.”

I have no intention of arguing for or against the use of the serial comma. I only want to point out that the rules for this particular punctuation mark can vary from style guide to style guide. Everybody . . . stay frosty.

The serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma) is the mark that appears before the conjunction in a list. “I don’t want to hear any whining, complaining, or name-calling.” The comma before the “or” is the serial comma.

Some style guides, such as the AMA Manual of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style, advocate for the use of the serial comma to avoid ambiguity. For example, a serial comma in the following sentence would make its meaning more clear:

“Please state name, age, sex and housing requirements.”

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