A Comma Controversy

Serial comma is a:

…comma used immediately before a conjunction (such as “and” or “or”) in a list of three or more items. The phrase “ham, chips, and eggs” is written with a serial comma, but “ham, chips and eggs” is not.

So what? you say. Well, it’s a big deal for editors and many writers. The Case of the Serial Comma:

People who know nothing else about punctuation recite this error with conviction, which says something ominous about the state of English language instruction. Why have many English teachers taught this wrong rule? Are they truly unaware that press style is for journalists and that we have a wealth of better authorities for standard American usage?

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss first introduced its controversy to me; I posted her punctuation quiz before.

I use the serial comma. “He ate a sandwich, bag of chips, and a cookie” makes more sense to me than “He ate a sandwich, bag of chips and a cookie”.

13 Replies to “A Comma Controversy”

  1. so is the serial comma wrong? because i specifically remember my english teachers all telling me to use it that way.

    In grade five, seven, and ten!

  2. So you’re NOT supposed to use the last comma if you’re listing a bunch of stuff? I always used to leave out the last comma before the ‘and’ in a list. But a newspaper editor told me to always use a comma after ‘but’ and ‘and.’ So I go both ways now.

    Thing is, language evolves usually according to the laws of verbal laziness, or just laziness in general. That’s is why Standard American English is beoming standard English, period. They remove all unnecessary letters, and change many words to phonetic spellings (e.g. plow instead of plough; check instead of cheque). The same law of laziness applies to written language, punctuation, all that junk. It’s incorrect punctuation until everyone starts doing it.

    Most people don’t know any better, anyway, or care. It’s the American way. (Just kidding.)

  3. “Most people don’t know any better, anyway, or care.”

    Should that be: “Most people don’t know any better, anyway, nor care.”

    You’re the expert, so I assume you’re right and I dunno wtf I r talkings aboot.

  4. Where’s the evidence that one of these usages is better than the other? I’m just seeing unsubstantiated opinions.

  5. Dear John,

    The “unsubstantiated opinion” immediate previous to your comment contains proof; the serial comma eliminates semantic ambiguities.

  6. I guess you’re referring to Elements of Style. I never liked that book. If theres evidence in there, I’ll believe it when I see it :)

  7. Huh? It says you SHOULD use it:

    In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

    I added the emphasize.

    red, white, and blue

    The ”last” being blue.

    Not that The Elements of Style is the Bible. It just makes sense to me.

Leave a Reply to Phillip Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*