punctuation question - this is an improper placement of a comma in a list, is it not?

My boss (a very good writer) writes lists like this:

Ms. X raised allegations against three faculty members: Dean Y; Associate Dean Q; and, Professor Z.

She puts a comma after the “and.” It looks very weird to me. I write the same list like this:

Ms. X raised allegations against three faculty members: Dean Y; Associate Dean Q; and Professor Z.

Who’s right?

Off the cuff, I’d say you are, but I defer to anyone with immediate access to the Chicago Manual of Style or something similar. AFAIK a comma after ‘and’ would be used if there was some sort of modifying phrase, e.g.

Ms. X raised allegations against three faculty members: Dean Y; Associate Dean Q; and, despite his being deceased for over ten years, Professor Z.

Neither of you. Correct would be:

Ms. X raised allegations against three faculty members: Dean Y, Associate Dean Q, and Professor Z.

Semi-colons are for joing clauses. They like howevers. They’re not really for generating lists - that’s the job of the comma.

Hmm. OK, I gotcha. Let’s assume that we are going to keep using semicolons, or that we change to commas. Still, the comma after “and” is a no-go, right? Totally wrong? Looks terrible?

If there was going to be a comma anywhere, it would be before the “and”. As there is a semi-colon occupying that space, then there is no comma.

In Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss, the *‘and,’ *is referred to as the ‘Oxford comma’ for use its use by graduates of that school, while ‘and’ (without a comma) is the general usage.

But even quoting that book can cause conniptions on this board, so take your pick of usage and be prepared for arguments either way.

I would say yes.

I agree it’s a mater of style; however, the most common (and I would argue most correct) usage is for all commas with none after the and.

If you’re writing personal correspondance I would omit the comma before the ‘and’ as well. For business correspondance I would include it.

That book is shit. However, let it be noted that the “Oxford comma” (or “Harvard comma”, or “serial comma”) is one which comes immediately before “and” (or another conjunction), not after.

No, an Oxford comma is a comma before the “and”. Comma after isn’t correct according to much of anyone except tesseract’s boss.

Damn you, Indistinguishable.

alice makes a good point: according to some of the sources I’ve looked at, semicolons aren’t generally used for making lists unless the individual items already have commas in them, e.g.:

Ms. X raised allegations against three faculty members: Dean Y, Physics; Associate Dean Q, Media and Journalism; and Professor Z, World Literature.

If there is no additional information about the faculty members included, the proper sentence is the one written by alice.

Re: the Oxford/Harvard comma - as I understand it, a comma shouldn’t come before ‘and’ when it’s part of a phrase or when you’re trying to link two separate items into a group within a larger list.

My favorite TV shows are Hee Haw, Starsky and Hutch, and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

That’s a humor book, not a style manual. (And for those of you following at home, that , and comma is also known as the serial comma and terminal comma.)

I’d advise using semicolons only if the list elements are fairly long or at least one contains a phrase set apart by commas. Otherwise, drop the semicolons down a rank to commas and lose the comma after and.

I stand corrected on the comma placement (my own error) and confirmed in the conniptions comment. Humour or style, Truss was correct in her book - no shit.

Wiki has more on the subject. It automatically redirects to this from an “Oxford Comma” search.

Yes, sorry, that was tiredly predictable and out of line from me. And what I had meant to do was to note that Truss had gotten that point correct, not to imply otherwise.

Mostly I’ll agree, but I’ll point out that if the items of the list in question include at least one phrase which itself needs a comma (say because of an appositive in the phrase), then separating the items with a semi-colon seems reason. For example:

The Fellowship of the Ring comprised Gandalf the Grey; Frodo, son of Drogo, and his servant Samwise Gamgee; Aragorn, sometimes known as Strider and later Elessar Telcontar…

See what I mean? Much clearer with semi-colons.

I really appreciate your reply.

May I share a quote from GH Vallin’s 1951 (revised) Good English - How To Write It? He’s quoting a letter by PB Ballard to the Editor of the Times Educational Supplement, circa 1950 or earlier (the quote is undated in the book).

I recognise this weakness in myself and I usually recommend Truss’ book to interested newcomers because it does recognise English as a group of closely related languages, rather than one with a distinct set of rules. It’s a good introduction, as In Search of Shrodinger’s Cat is a good introduction to Quantum Physics, without being the definitive tome on the subject. I should probably clarify its introductory nature more often.

I found it after a long period of trying to reconcile the differences between my varied writing guides (American, British, Kiwi, Journalism, fiction, short fiction, etc). Truss’ humour and history of the centuries of squabbling over semi-colon usage were instrumental in reigniting my interest.

*PB Ballard wrote quite a few books on language use, he’s being just a little disingenuous with this statement.

The Oxford comma is occasionally indispensable, as in a famous example (from memory):

There really should be a comma before “and.”


Yes, except that’s not the example that was presented. As presented, the semi-colons are…wrong. (There, I said it. It’s not even a matter of style - it’s just plain, old wrong.)