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The serial comma

by on
in Workplace Communication

One of the most common reader questions we receive is about the serial comma—that is, the comma that comes before the “and” when you’re listing a series of things.

Examples:

The top contenders for the prize are Mark, Samantha, and Terry.

The job requires patience, discretion and accuracy.

The question is, “Should I use it or not use it?”

The answer is, it’s up to you. The serial comma is used by some publications and dismissed by others, which makes it a matter of style.

Things to keep in mind:

Be consistent. If you opt to use it, use it every time.

When in doubt, use it. In some cases, the reader may need a serial comma to understand the meaning of a sentence. One such case is this fictitious book dedication:

I’d like to thank my parents, Ernest Hemingway and God.

Without the serial comma, you might wonder if the writer is saying her parents are Ernest Hemingway and God. With the comma, though, it’s clear she’s thanking four people—her parents, Ernest Hemingway, and God.

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