Edits By Knight

Using Commas to Separate Items in a List

     Perhaps the most notable place you’ll find commas is within a list with three or more items—if there are only two, the coordinating conjunctions “and/or” are sufficient to join them. For the sake of this post, I’m including multiple descriptive words used for a single word (adjectives/adverbs) in my definition of list.

Interlude: the Oxford Comma

     Also known as the serial, series, or Harvard comma, the Oxford comma refers to the comma that appears directly after the penultimate (e.g., next-to-last) item in the list, before the coordinating conjunction introducing the last item. I’ll be using the Oxford comma in my examples, as I prefer it—it’s too easy to get confused without it! However, different styles have their own rules (for instance, in CMOS, the Oxford/serial comma is always needed, while AP Style omits it), and each publisher, client, and professor has their own preference, so it’s important to know your audience.

     The rule for using commas in a list is pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll make it brief: Each component of a list containing three or more elements should be separated by a comma, and the last item in the list should be preceded by “and/or.”

 

Examples:

The sentence contained a subject, predicate, and several descriptive words.

These are the things I need you to buy: eggs, bread, milk, and coffee.

The flag was red, white, and blue.

He spoke quickly, softly, and urgently.

For an appetizer, you can order edamame, seaweed salad, gyoza, or lettuce wraps.

Should we watch a baking show, anime, or that sci-fi movie?

The pattern comprised pinkish-orange stripes, purple circles, and chevrons of alternating green and blue.

    When the components of a list themselves contain commas, they should be separated by semicolons in the interest of clarity:

Here are the places we plan to visit: Huntsville, Alabama; Houston, Texas; Alexandria, Virginia; and Seattle, Washington.

     Be sure to check out the rest of the basics of comma usage, and visit visit my blog’s main page to find tips and tricks for editors, writers, and freelancers!

Miko lives in North Alabama with their husband, Mark—two bright blue dots in a really red state. The pair have three cats, Henry, Louise, and Jefferson Twilight, and live the quiet and satisfying lives of two nerdy introverts. The work-from-home lifestyle is perfect for Miko, who was diagnosed with ADHD and autism in their late thirties.

     In their spare time, Miko enjoys gardening, playing the piano, singing, playing JRPGs, Tabletop gaming, and (of course) reading.

For more about me, visit my blog here.

Miko lives in North Alabama with their husband, Mark—two bright blue dots in a really red state. The pair have three cats, Henry, Louise, and Jefferson Twilight, and live the quiet and satisfying lives of two nerdy introverts. The work-from-home lifestyle is perfect for Miko, who was diagnosed with ADHD and autism in their late thirties.

     In their spare time, Miko enjoys gardening, playing the piano, singing, playing JRPGs, Tabletop gaming, and (of course) reading.

For more about me, visit my blog here.