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Commas before the word "and"...


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I think it is common in American English to put the comma there, but not in British English.

Also, you may need a comma if the sentence is ambiguous.

For example: "I bought a bag of crisps, salt and vinegar at the store." Does that mean you bought a bag of salt & vinegar flavoured crisps, or did you buy a bag of crisps, along with salt and vinegar?

Adding a comma instantly tells us that in addition to the crisps, you also bought salt and vinegar: "I bought a bag of crisps, salt, and vinegar."

Also see the Wikipedia article about the serial comma.

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The "Oxford comma" is generally regarded as unnecessary anymore in most list formats. However, I still prefer it and most professors I have had seem to have the same feelings...so I suppose it's often down to personal choice.

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I think it is common in American English to put the comma there, but not in British English.

Also, you may need a comma if the sentence is ambiguous.

For example: "I bought a bag of crisps, salt and vinegar at the store." Does that mean you bought a bag of salt & vinegar flavoured crisps, or did you buy a bag of crisps, along with salt and vinegar?

Adding a comma instantly tells us that in addition to the crisps, you also bought salt and vinegar: "I bought a bag of crisps, salt, and vinegar."

Also see the Wikipedia article about the serial comma.

I was taught to use the Oxford comma or serial comma. I do know that even though it's normal to use the serial comma in standard writing in America, American journalists never use it. Like Daedalus stated, it can be ambiguous sometimes. That's why I prefer to use the serial comma so there's no misunderstanding in my writing.

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I think it is common in American English to put the comma there, but not in British English.

Also, you may need a comma if the sentence is ambiguous.

For example: "I bought a bag of crisps, salt and vinegar at the store." Does that mean you bought a bag of salt & vinegar flavoured crisps, or did you buy a bag of crisps, along with salt and vinegar?

Adding a comma instantly tells us that in addition to the crisps, you also bought salt and vinegar: "I bought a bag of crisps, salt, and vinegar."

Also see the Wikipedia article about the serial comma.

Well that is interesting.  I grew up in America but my father taught me to not put the comma before the word "and".  Yet my schoolmasters often did tell me to put the comma before the word "and".  I understand what you mean about using the comma to avoid ambiguity.

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I've always wondered about this although I've usually just do not use a comma before and. I would stick with this although I would be moving to the US soon, I'm wondering if it's a big deal over there. Not that it's hard to put an extra comma before and.

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Just forget the rule books for a minute and think about this logically.

A comma is used when you want to denote that there is another item in the list

"And" is used in a sentence to denote the last item in the list.

So when you used "and" obviously the item before it should not end with comma because the precise reason for using "and" is to show the end of the list while a comma is used to denote continuation of the list!

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No, I do not put the comma before and. The list has ended with and and therefore it does not stand the reason. This is the way, I was taught. I think some grammar rules can be safely ignored if they do not stand the reason.

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I think it is common in American English to put the comma there, but not in British English.

Also, you may need a comma if the sentence is ambiguous.

For example: "I bought a bag of crisps, salt and vinegar at the store." Does that mean you bought a bag of salt & vinegar flavoured crisps, or did you buy a bag of crisps, along with salt and vinegar?

Adding a comma instantly tells us that in addition to the crisps, you also bought salt and vinegar: "I bought a bag of crisps, salt, and vinegar."

Also see the Wikipedia article about the serial comma.

Thanks, Daedalus, for the explanation and the Wikipedia article.  I agree with you that it's good to use the comma to eliminate any ambiguity as in the sentence you used as an example. 

I think the article is well worth reading as it sheds much light on when it's best to use the comma to avoid such ambiguity in meaning. 

The use of the serial or Oxford comma does vary partly by region as you point out; it's more widespread in the U.S. and less so in the UK. 

And, as the article points out, even in the U.S. there is some dispute among experts.

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Guest akasha24

I never put commas before the word and. I don't think it is correct nor necessary. I learned English in London and I have never seen and never learned that a comma should come before the word and. The word but is a big question for me because sometimes I put a commas before it, sometimes I don't but I guess that's another topic.

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When I was first studying English, I didn't put the comma before and. But after seeing authors do it so often in their books, I've started to do it as well.

Here's another question for you all: Do you put a comma before "but"? Example: I would like to play, but I have to do homework.

It's the same story for me. I didn't put the comma before but when I first started learning English. But then I saw it used in books and so I just started doing it too.

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When I was first studying English, I didn't put the comma before and. But after seeing authors do it so often in their books, I've started to do it as well.

Here's another question for you all: Do you put a comma before "but"? Example: I would like to play, but I have to do homework.

It's the same story for me. I didn't put the comma before but when I first started learning English. But then I saw it used in books and so I just started doing it too.

No, I do not.  I only put the comma before the word "but".  I've seen many people do it but it is unnecessary for the same reasons that it is unnecessary before the word "and". 

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Using a comma before the word "and" depends on the thought and construction of your sentence.

A comma is usually used when merging two independent clauses.

1. The car was taken by my sister, and was later found near her boyfriend's house.

[The car was taken by my sister.] + [The car was later found near her boyfriend's house.]

2. Carla started dancing ballet when she was 5 years old, and is now teaching ballet to kids.

[Carla started dancing ballet when she was 5 years old.] + [Carla is now teaching ballet to kids.]

If the independent clauses are short, there's no need to use a comma -- but it can still be used.

eg.

I drank scotch, and Shelley had water.

I drank scotch and Shelley had water.

When enumerating, a comma isn't supposed to be used before "and."

eg.

1. I would like a slice of bread with butter, strawberry jam, bacon on the side and orange juice.

2. Exercising helps you stay fit and healthy.

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No, I do not.  I only put the comma before the word "but".  I've seen many people do it but it is unnecessary for the same reasons that it is unnecessary before the word "and".

It's so weird how it's unnecessary, yet people do it. My teachers used to tell me that commas were pauses in a sentence. But I never pause before "but" or "and", yet there are almost always commas there.

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is one reason why the English language could be so frustrating at times. I usually don't use a comma before the word "and" unless doing so would make the sentence ambiguous. As others have said, this comes down to a matter of choice, as there isn't really a hard rule about this.

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The "Oxford comma" is generally regarded as unnecessary anymore in most list formats. However, I still prefer it and most professors I have had seem to have the same feelings...so I suppose it's often down to personal choice.

This is what the Writing Guide of the UtahState University says about the Oxford comma,

31. When Do I Use Commas?

C. In serial lists (containing three or more subjects, phrases, or clauses)

I. Commas clarify items in a list that are connected by the concept of the thought, but otherwise disconnected from each other. In this case, always separate these items by commas—up to and including the last item. This is known as the Serial or Oxford comma.

•  Example: “Mesopotamia is better understood not only as a place but as a series of cultures that exhibited common beliefs, patterns of development, conquest and defeat, and who lived and died in an area roughly centered in the land between the rivers.”

•  Example: “Caesar was bold, brave, and successful.”

II. Some departments and publishers will specifically request the omission of the Oxford comma. Always follow the guidelines of the party for whom you are writing. When it is not explicitly stated, however, employ the Oxford (see section 33 for rules on consistency).

Full guide sections are found here, http://www.usu.edu/markdamen/WritingGuide/CGGS/311c.htm

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is what the Writing Guide of the UtahState University says about the Oxford comma,

Full guide sections are found here, http://www.usu.edu/markdamen/WritingGuide/CGGS/311c.htm

Good post. I tend to just use the Oxford comma, even when it's not a serial list. I wonder what kind of department or publisher would request that the Oxford comma not be used?

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am in the US and I never use the comma after the item preceding "and" in the list.  I was not taught that way and do not see it used that way very often.  I say that with a big reservation as I may have seen it and assumed it was wrong.  After reading the explanation as using it to denote the last item in the list preceding the "and" it makes sense, but it was not widely used or taught this way to my knowledge.

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This grammar reference makes reference to commas before a word:

When Do I Use Commas?

In serial lists (containing three or more subjects, phrases, or clauses)

I. Commas clarify items in a list that are connected by the concept of the thought, but otherwise disconnected from each other. In this case, always separate these items by commas—up to and including the last item. This is known as the Serial or Oxford comma.

•  Example: “Mesopotamia is better understood not only as a place but as a series of cultures that exhibited common beliefs, patterns of development, conquest and defeat, and who lived and died in an area roughly centered in the land between the rivers.”

•  Example: “Caesar was bold, brave, and successful.”

II. Some departments and publishers will specifically request the omission of the Oxford comma. Always follow the guidelines of the party for whom you are writing. When it is not explicitly stated, however, employ the Oxford.

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Yes, I think the comma in this case is very important. It's not the most significant differentiator, I have to admit, and you can still get the idea of everything without it, but I think when it comes to writing, it pays to be as clear as you can be.

I bought tofu, spinach, onions and crackers at the store.

In your example, onions and crackers may be misconstrued as being in a group, whereas if you placed a comma before "and", there is absolutely no chance for the two things to be grouped.

These are my friends - Tony, Charlie, Bryan and Steve.

In this example, Bryan and Steve can be mistaken for a couple, in my opinion.

These are my friends - Tony, Charlie, Bryan, and Steve.

Much better.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The "Oxford comma" is generally regarded as unnecessary anymore in most list formats. However, I still prefer it and most professors I have had seem to have the same feelings...so I suppose it's often down to personal choice.

Ugh, Oxford commas. Generally outdated but this is a debate that is NEVER going to die... so.... if you like commas, Laura, go for it. If not, leave 'em out.

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