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  #1  
Old 08-05-2002, 03:26 AM
JohnClay JohnClay is offline
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U.S. grammar - can a comma preceed "and"?

Hi,
I was wondering what people who were knowledgeable in the latest U.S. grammar thought about this?

Quote:
The presence of the commas before "and" is not incorrect. See "The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)," paragraph 5.57, and note that CMS is usually considered the standard reference for editors here in the U.S. The use of commas before "and" is probably to be preferred in the case of scholarly and formal writing.
Well a lot of American things don't use commas before "and"...

e.g.
The Scientific American Magazine
I've found about them avoid commas about 10 times, but I've never seen them use a comma.

CNN.com
I've found a couple of examples without the comma, but one with the comma. (Link shows without comma)

Whitehouse.gov
Right now the front page has two examples without the comma -

"President Bush Reflects ...education, a reduction in taxes and the brownfields bill. "

But clicking on that quoted link it says:
"...war on terror, and money..."

The other example on the front whitehouse page:

"President Commends...open markets, expand opportunity and create jobs..."

Clicking on that link:

"... find work, and some farmer is going to be able to sell his product, and some nation..."

Both of those were transcripts... perhaps commas are used to show that the speaker is pausing.

Their West Wing article is more formal though...
It uses a comma before an "and" though:
"...the Roosevelt Room, and the James..."

Microsoft uses commas before "and".... but when it detected that I lived in Australia (for their Help and Support page) it didn't use the commas any more....

A professor of English at Washington State University says:
"Authorities differ as to whether that final comma before the "and" is required. Follow the style recommended by your teacher, editor, or boss when you have to please them; but if you are on your own, I suggest you use the final comma. It often removes ambiguities."

EnglishPlus.com says:
"Incorrect:
The street was filled with angry protestors, shouting spectators and police.
(Leaving out the last comma makes it look like the police were shouting, too.)"

"Correct:
The street was filled with angry protestors, shouting spectators, and police.
(Makes it clearer.)"

So do people think that guy I quoted is right? Note that he was particularly talking about scholarly and formal writing.
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  #2  
Old 08-05-2002, 04:26 AM
sailor sailor is offline
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Both can be correct and just depends on what you are trying to sya. This is like asking what is correct "the women were shouting" or "the men were shouting". It depends on what you are trying to say. A comma goes where you would pause briefly when reading or speaking. That is the common sense rule.

>> The street was filled with angry protestors, shouting spectators, and police.

I agree this is correct because the police were not part of the shouting spectators.

OTOH, I would say "During the hospital fire the street was filled with firefighters, police, hospital patients and staff". No need for comma there. So, the rule is that you need to know what you are trying to say.
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  #3  
Old 08-05-2002, 04:43 AM
Achernar Achernar is offline
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Further Question

If you intend to imply that the staff are hospital staff, and that's why you don't need a comma, why wouldn't you put this:

...the street was filled with firefighters, police, and hospital patients and staff.
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  #4  
Old 08-05-2002, 04:55 AM
sailor sailor is offline
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Ok, so, to illustrate the point maybe this would be better: "the street was filled with hospital patients and staff, firefighters and police".

No comma needed there.
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  #5  
Old 08-05-2002, 05:15 AM
Snooooopy Snooooopy is offline
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I used to be a journalist until very recently, so I know that Associated Press style is to leave out the comma before the "and" which comes at the end of a list: "I killed and ate Bob, Judy and their dog." But if you're not writing for a newspaper, then you can have it whatever way you want, I guess.
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  #6  
Old 08-05-2002, 05:44 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Yep. Basically you're citing lists which contain "and" in series. AP style says do not use "and" before the terminating item in a list.
Other US styles (some of the academic one in particularly, although I've dealt with so many friggin styles, Chicago, MLA, APA, AP, etc. I can't remember which is which) prescribe the comma.

Also, commas do not precede "and" in dependent clauses. They do in independent clauses.

"I killed Bob and ate his dog."
"I killed Bob, and Judy ate his dog."
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  #7  
Old 08-05-2002, 07:28 AM
Scarlett67 Scarlett67 is offline
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Book copyeditor here (and thus I use Chicago almost exclusively, with occasional forays into APA and MLA). I have found that the serial comma almost always prevents ambiguity and possible misreading.The classic example is the apocryphal book dedication:

"To my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

That's some pedigree! The serial comma would make it clear that this is a list with three elements, and not an appositive.
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Old 08-05-2002, 07:32 AM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is offline
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Take a look at the quote: it says the presence of the serial comma is "not incorrect."

This question has nothing to do with grammar. It has to do with style. And style has a wide range of variations, depending on who you're writing for.

Generally, newspapers leave out the serial comma, and other publications leave it in. The strongest case for leaving it in was mad by Fowler, who gave an example something like:

"The playoff matchings are Chicago and New York, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, Boston and Los Angeles, and Denver and Houston."
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  #9  
Old 08-05-2002, 07:34 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Scarlett67- Yeah, I pretty much concur that I like the serial comma, but I don't use it since I come from a journalism background. In non-journalistic works (eg. academic papers) I do use the serial comma. I'm really curious as to why AP style is against this punctuation mark, as it does seem necessary to avoid confusion in certain cases. Normally, AP style goes for shorter forms (e.g. "toward" instead of "towards," but curiously "teen-ager" instead of "teenager.") However, I can't exactly say a comma takes up a lot of space. Or really any for that matter.
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  #10  
Old 08-05-2002, 07:51 AM
Scarlett67 Scarlett67 is offline
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Yup, AP style is generally geared toward saving space in any way possible. Like the journalistic writing style of putting the most important info at the beginning and successively less-important info in each following paragraph (to make editorial cutting easier -- just chop off the end), it has its place in journalism but is usually inappropriate elsewhere.
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  #11  
Old 08-05-2002, 08:08 AM
Irishman Irishman is offline
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It probably has its origin back in the printing press days, when they wanted to conserve commas or some other nonsensical rule that is now carried over. Just like putting the punctuation inside the quotation marks even if it doesn't really belong there.

Personally, I always use the terminating comma, it belongs there. You have a list, and commas separate the items of the list, so you need a comma separating the last two items. People have already shown examples of how the lack of the comma can cause confusion. So sailor in your last example, I would say the comma is needed. I can figure out what you mean, but it really should be there.
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  #12  
Old 08-05-2002, 09:15 AM
JohnClay JohnClay is offline
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Thanks everyone...
it seems that commas sometimes are quite important and for consistency, should be used in lists all the time.
I like Scarlett67's example
"To my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

I suppose I should use that style myself... the grammar guides I found on Australian sites said to use commas... I guess I learnt my style from reading lots of magazines and things. (I hardly ever read books)
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  #13  
Old 08-05-2002, 10:10 AM
handy handy is offline
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This topic comes up a lot. The answers are the same. I myself liked the book, 'A Manual of Email
Style' which deals with this & other issues. I would usually suggest searching the board,
for say, 'comma' but it makes it slow down too much.
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  #14  
Old 08-05-2002, 10:44 AM
barbitu8 barbitu8 is offline
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All these comments on what is a matter of style and noone has commented on the misspelling of "precede." So, I'll be the gringe that points it out.
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  #15  
Old 08-05-2002, 10:52 AM
Jonathan Chance Jonathan Chance is offline
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This is something that's always been on my radar screen.

WAY back when when I was taking English 101 in college my school required that everyone write from the style in the 'Little Brown Handbook" (which sounds Maoist until you realize it's published by Little, Brown Publishers).

My version of the book required the final comma. Simple enough.

A friend of mine who went to the same school 6 years later has a version in which the final comma is not required.

I like to think I was there when part of the language evolved. And that I could see the actual demarcation point.
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  #16  
Old 08-05-2002, 02:12 PM
kunilou kunilou is offline
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I live by two basic style books -- The AP and Strunk & White (now that I'm working for a non-profit organization, I have to get familiar with APA as well.)

Anyway, Strunk & White clearly states In a series of three or more items, use a comma after each one..." -- including before "and"
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  #17  
Old 08-05-2002, 02:15 PM
kunilou kunilou is offline
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Unfortunately, I didn't get to the part about how to use Quotation Marks.
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  #18  
Old 08-05-2002, 04:43 PM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is offline
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Quote:
See "The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)," paragraph 5.57, and note...
I'd say they've made their case.
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  #19  
Old 08-05-2002, 04:48 PM
Manduck Manduck is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by barbitu8
All these comments on what is a matter of style and noone has commented on the misspelling of "precede." So, I'll be the gringe that points it out.
And I will be the gringe that points out that you misspelled "grinch"
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  #20  
Old 08-06-2002, 12:21 AM
Gozu Tashoya Gozu Tashoya is offline
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It probably goes without saying, but whether you go with the comma or not be consistent with your (non)usage of it.
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  #21  
Old 08-06-2002, 12:36 AM
jiHymas jiHymas is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by sailor
>> The street was filled with angry protestors, shouting spectators, and police.

I agree this is correct because the police were not part of the shouting spectators.
This sounds very awkward to me.

Generally accepted styles change over time and tastes vary. De gustibus non disputandum!
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  #22  
Old 08-06-2002, 01:07 AM
Sofa King Sofa King is offline
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Let me preface this by saying that I'm going to screw this post up in any number of ways. Feel free to count them and inform me by e-mail.

I engaged in an ongoing war with my lawyer-superiors over this issue for several years. The rule as I learned it was that when naming items in a series, such as "lawyers, historical researchers, and their clients," the comma before the article was essential to prevent some sort of inadvertent conflation of the last two items. The lawyers disagreed with me.

Then one day, the former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Kevin Gover, wrote an article entitled, For want of a comma, a casino is lost. I felt vindicated, although I'm sure someone will take issue with my opinion.

(It's worth noting that a certain former Governor of the state in question was only dimly aware of the fact that he even had such a thing as an American Indian tribe within his borders. His primary concern, I think, is the placement of commas after every three digits of a number.)
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  #23  
Old 08-06-2002, 01:08 AM
Walloon Walloon is offline
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To the contrary, the Chicago Manual of Style calls for the serial comma. From the 13th edition:

Quote:
5.50 In a series consisting of three or more elements, the elements are separated by commas. When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma is used before the conjunction.
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  #24  
Old 08-06-2002, 02:31 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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I don't think anybody was saying that Chicago Style is against the comma. In fact, it seems that AP is the only major stylebook against the use of a comma before the conjunction in a series. There must be another major style guide somewhere (OK, I guess the Little Brown Handbook has been mentioned, but I've never heard of it before today) which doesn't use the final comma, but I've no idea which it is.
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  #25  
Old 08-06-2002, 02:34 AM
JThunder JThunder is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Irishman

Personally, I always use the terminating comma, it belongs there.
Y'know, I hate to sound nitpicky, but as long as we're on this topic... I think that sentence demonstrates an extremely common misuse of the comma.

I usually don't call attention to such things, but since we are talking about the proper usage of commas, I felt it would be appropriate.
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  #26  
Old 08-06-2002, 03:02 AM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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My vague memory from long ago (before a bunch of you were born) was that the "comma before 'and'" was basically U.S. while omitting the comma was British (although there were Yanks who preferred to omit it).

My choice was easy. My instructor in sophomore year of high school (whom I really enjoyed) was pro comma and his boss, who taught me the next year, (but whom I did not like), preferred to omit it. Therefore, I always use it and hope that my prose passes before my junior year instructor frequently.
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Old 08-08-2002, 08:18 AM
Irishman Irishman is offline
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JThunder, what, the second comma? Yeah, I wasn't paying attention.

jiHymas, yes that sounds awkward, but what does that have to do with the comma? It's not like the comma makes a sound in the sentence.

AHunter3, look again at that example you cite. That is not the same usage. We're talking about terminating commas in a list preceding the conjunction. That example is either offsetting the paragraph number or separating two independent clauses (see..., and note....)
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  #28  
Old 08-08-2002, 08:37 AM
matt_mcl matt_mcl is offline
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I always thought that the comma before "and" was one of the primary distinctions between English and French, and one that I am perpetually forgetting.

If you're curious, "Dédié à mes parents, Ayn Rand et Dieu" means the silly interpretation; the nonsilly interpretation (at least as far as grammar goes) is "Dédié à mes parents, à Ayn Rand et à Dieu," repeating the preposition.
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  #29  
Old 08-08-2002, 09:14 AM
jiHymas jiHymas is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Irishman
jiHymas, yes that sounds awkward, but what does that have to do with the comma? It's not like the comma makes a sound in the sentence.
It's the comma or lack thereof that we are discussing. If it makes no difference. then it is mere ornamentation and therefore no longer a matter of style, but just plain wrong.
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