Picking a fight over the serial comma?

Want to pick a fight? Ask someone whether they use the serial comma (a comma before the conjunction in a paragraph list). Who knew that one little stroke of ink could start a battle?

Forming a series of items (three or more items coming one after another) allows you as a writer to efficiently list things that should be considered together. Use commas to visually and grammatically separate each item, adding a comma before the “and” or “or” in the series to allow the reader to recognize the boundaries of all the items. For example:

  • In our HR class, we studied recruitment, mergers and acquisitions, and employee relations.
  • Metals concentrations for groundwater samples collected from SB-1, SB-2, and SB-3 were below established limits for drinking water.

The serial comma is probably the most controversial comma (just Google “serial comma” to see what I mean). All technical and business writing style guides call for its use, but the Associated Press does not recommend the use of the serial comma in a simple list.
Journalists and writers in marketing and sales departments follow AP style and do not use the serial comma. (I’ve found that it is pointless to argue this difference with anyone who uses AP style. To see the result of this style choice, click here.)

One more thing to note: Don’t waste a comma between two items: “I’ve had it with snow and ice this winter!”

Ready for your quiz?

Leave a reply