U.S. grammar - can a comma preceed "and"?

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

Well a lot of American things don’t use commas before “and”…

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

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

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]
(http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/08/20020802-1.html) 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:
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.)”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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)

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.

All these comments on what is a matter of style and noone has commented on the misspelling of “precede.” :slight_smile: So, I’ll be the gringe that points it out.

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.

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”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the part about how to use Quotation Marks.

I’d say they’ve made their case.

And I will be the gringe that points out that you misspelled “grinch” :smiley:

It probably goes without saying, but whether you go with the comma or not be consistent with your (non)usage of it.