Commas Series

Separate elements in a series

comma

 

 

Commas with elements listed in a series

TWO ELEMENTS

Usually we use and to join similar elements: two verbs, two nouns, two adjectives, etc. It is important to make sure the words are like-word-forms (parallel word forms).

VERBS

The biathlon athlete skis and shoots.    
 

NOUN PHRASES

The biathlon athlete uses skis and a gun.
 

ADJECTIVES

The biathlon athlete is strong and focused.
 

ADVERBS

In order to win, he must shoot quickly and accurately.
 

PHRASES

He must be able to outwit and to out-last the others. 
 

CLAUSES

The biathlon athlete is a person who knows his strengths and who keeps his focus.
 

MORE THAN TWO ELEMENTS

When listing more than two like-elements, use a comma to punctuate items in a series.  Placing a comma before and is optional.  See below

VERBS

A triathlete runs, bikes, and swims.      

NOUN PHRASES

The athlete uses running shoes, a bicycle, and swim goggles.

ADJECTIVES

A triathlete is strong, well-trained, and focused.

ADVERBS

In order to win, he must run swiftly, gracefully, and boldly.

PHRASES

He is able to outwit, out-last and out-play the others. 

CLAUSES

She was a woman who knew her strengths, who knew how to use her wit, and who wasn't afraid to "stick her head out".
 

 

Related page: using commas to set of comments or clauses

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comma Series

Ellipsis

 

 

Omitting Repeated Words (Ellipsis)

NON-MIXED TYPE

To avoid repetition, we commonly omit articles, quantifiers, axillaries in a series if they are complemented by the same element (noun, verb, prepositions, articles)  We include such items in a series for emphsis (anaphora)

AUXILLIARIES

The runner can, must and will run in the race.  (shorter)  

The runner can run, must run and will run in the race(emphasis)

QUANTIFIERS

Overweight people should consume less fat, sugar, and salt.

 

ARTICLES

He bought a pair of shoes, shorts, and socks.  He bought a shirt, hat, and map.   

 

PREPOSITIONS

They became aware and took charge of building safeguards for athletes. 

 

MIXED TYPE

We do not omit articles, quantifiers, axillaries, or prepositions in a series if they are complemented by different element types (count/noncount nouns, verb forms, verb phrases, articles etc.)

AUXILLIARIES

*The runner has, must and will run the race(mixed type)

The runner has run, must run, and will run in the upcoming marathon race.      

QUANTIFIERS

*Overweight people should consume less fat, sweets, and salty snacks.

People should consume less fat,  fewer sweets, and fewer salty snacks.  

ARTICLES

?He bought a hat, shirt, and pants. (some is optional)     

He bought a hat, a shirt and some pants

PREPOSITIONS

*They took interest, charge and succeeded in building safeguards for athletes. 

They became interested in, took charge of, and succeeded in building safeguards for athletes.    

 

ellipsis – the omission of words to avoid repetition
anaphora (epanaphora) – the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of several consecutive sentences or verses to emphasize an image or a concept.
safegurards (n.) – legal protections
Solution - lightbulb Ellipsis in a Series

 

 

 

 

Comma Series

Comma before "and"

thank you speech
 

 

Comma before "and"

NO COMMA BEFORE AND

no comma before andSome writers do not to include a comma before and (in a series) unless this causes the meaning to become unclear. The writing style manuals that recommend not using a comma when a conjunction joins the last two elements of a series are Associated Press, The New York Times, The Times.

I would like a pastrami, cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
(One sandwich with three or maybe four ingredients)

 

 

COMMA BEFORE AND

The writing style manuals that recommend using a comma when a conjunction joins the last two elements of a series are  Chicago Manual of Style, Fowler's Modern English Usage, The Elements of Style, The U.S. Gov. Printing Office, MLA, Harvard style manuals, and The Oxford Style Manual.                       

I would like a pastrami, cheese, peanut butter, and jelly sandwich.
(One sandwich with four different ingredients)

I would like a pastrami and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (two sandwiches with two different ingredients)

I would like a pastrami, a cheese, a peanut butter, and a jelly sandwich. (four sandwiches with four different ingredients)

 

Solution - lightbulb Pop-Q  – "Comma Series"

Also see Inseparable Pairs  salt and pepper, ham and eggs, cookies and milk, etc.

 

 

"The Oxford comma" or "the serial comma"

"Use commas in place of conjunctions to separate elements in a list of three or more items. The presence or lack of a comma before and or or in such a list has become the subject of much spirited debate. For a century it has been part of OUP to retain or impose this last serial (or series) comma consistently, to the extent that the convention has come to be called the "Oxford comma".…The last commas serves also to resolve ambiguity, particularly when any of the items are compound terms joined by a conjunction…" (Oxford Style Manual 121-2)

FOR  AGAINST

→ Let's hop, skip, and jump.

The Purdue OWL   

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (3.2.2.b)

The Gregg Reference Manual: (162 a.)

The Elements of Style (2)

The Chicago Manual of Style (6.19)

The Oxford Style Manual (5.5.3)

→ Let's hop, skip and jump.

AP Stylebook (32)

Style Guide. Oxford University. "generally no comma unless required to prevent ambiguity" 

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language is neutral. (1738–40)

 

 

Resources 

 

Style Manual Abbreviations (used in this website)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Word Series

Word Play

 

 

 

Word Play— Noun or Verb?

TWO COMMAS ONE COMMA NO COMMAS

All three items are verbs. The person does three activities.

Second item is a noun.  The person does two activiites.

Second and third items are nouns. The person does perfoms one activity on two  items.

Dancers
He kicks, rocks, and rolls.  
He verb + verb + verb.

rock(v.) – dancerock style 
 


kicks rocks
He kicks rocks, and rolls.
He verb + noun + verb. (nonsense)

  rock (n.) – stone


kick\
He kicks rocks and rolls.
  He verb + noun + noun. (nonsense)

rolls (n.) – bread

Person wateringHe waters, weeds, and plants.
He verb + verb + verb.

weed (v.) – remove ugly plants

Man weeding lawnHe waters weeds and plants.
He verb + noun + verb. (nonsense)

weed (n.) – ugly plant

weeds and plantsHe waters weeds and plants.
He verb + noun + noun.

performerHe performs, flips, and spins.
He verb + verb + verb.

flipsHe performs flips and spins.
He verb + noun + verb.

flip (n.) – 360 turn-over

spinsHe performs flips and spins.
He verb + noun + noun.

nonsense (n.) – Something that is silly. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

Model S

 

 

 

ERROR SOLUTION

*The appeal of Tesla's Model S lies in its sexy sports car design. (unclear use of modifiers)

The appeal of Tesla's Model S lies in its sexy, sports-car design.
If sexy is a second modifier to design, use a comma.

The appeal of Tesla's Model S lies in its sexy sports-car design.
If sexy is a single modifier to sports-car, don't use a comma.

*Punch mark or fill-in your ballot.  (unclear word form meaning)
  

Punch, mark, or fill-in your ballot!   A comma joins items in a row (same word forms) -- in this case three verbs.  Using a comma before or is optional.) 

*/?I would like to thank my brothers, Sarah and Mary. (Two brothers with female names (?)

I would like to thank my brothers, Sarah, and Mary.
(Four or mrore people: # brothers and Sarah and Mary) 

?On the tray were bacon, eggs, salt, pepper, cookies and milk (Not incorrect, but not the usual grouping.)

On the tray were bacon and eggs, salt and pepper, and cookies and milk.

See Inseparable Pairs  salt and pepper, ham  and eggs, cookies and milk, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Albert "Renaissance man"

telescope and moonAlbert
 

 

Read for Errors

As a teacher astronomer inventor father, Albert is frequently called a "Renaissance man". He adores his four children: Anna Haley Nina Milo. He loves spending the weekends with his children showing them the stars teaching them all he knows. They often go on field trips visit planetariums and observatories look at the stars together.

Albert has written astronomy books for children: "Astro Anna" "Haley's Comet" "Nina's Nine Planets" "Milo the Moon Mouse".

Albert likes to name the stories after his children because it amuses it honors it inspires them.

Albert teaches physics astronomy mathematics at a nearby university. His students like his ability to explain complex things in simple ways to inspire their love of learning to listen to their ideas. Last year, his students won first prize for the most creative innovative promising new inventions. 

More than anything, Albert loves to spend his time sitting reading thinking.

astronomy (n.) – the scientific study of the stars and planets

comet (n.) – a body that moves around the sun with a central mass surrounded by dust and gas, usually with a  tail.

complex (n. / adj.) – complicated, having many parts

field trip (n.) – a lesson in which the class goes  outside of the classroom to learn

innovative (adj.)  – new, creative, original thinking

inspire (v.) – affect someone with a feeling of wanting to do something great, influence, move someone to action with a feeling

inventor (n.) – person who has original ideas and creates new things

observatory (n) – a building equipped with a large telescope for viewing stars, planets, and the moon

physics (n.) – the science concerned with the study of physical objects and substances, and of natural forces such as light, heat, and movement

planetarium (n.) – a theater with a dome ceiling for showing the movement of the stars and the planets

promising (adj.) – having a very good possibility of success

Renaissance man – a person with expertise, knowledge, in many fields, an enlightened person

 

 

 

Edit the sentences for commas.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check 1-10" button at the bottom, or click the "check" button as you go.

 

1.
As a teacher astronomer inventor father, Albert is frequently called a "Renaissance man". 



2.
He adores his four children: Anna Haley Nina Milo.


3.
He loves spending the weekends with his children showing them the stars teaching them all he knows.


4.
They often go on field trips visit planetariums and observatories look at the stars together.


5.
Albert has written astronomy books for children: "Astro Anna" "Haley's Comet" "Nina's Nine Planets" "Milo the Moon Mouse".


6.
Albert likes to name the stories after his children because it amuses it honors it inspires them.


7.
Albert teaches physics astronomy mathematics at a nearby university.


8.
His students like his ability to explain complex things in simple ways to inspire their love of learning to listen to their ideas.


9.
Last year, his students won first prize for the most creative innovative promising new inventions.


10.
More than anything, Albert loves to spend his time sitting reading thinking.


 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Word Play

 

 

What does each person do — perform three activities or manage two items?

Remember that punctuation can determine whether a word form is a verb or a noun.  One option will be logical.  The other option might be silly (nonsense). 

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check 11-20" button at the bottom, or click the "check" button as you go.

 

11.
captain

12.
Which option means the person does three activities?

13.
commanderWhich option means the commander manages two things?

14.
Which option means the astronomer looks at two things?

15.
Which option means the Santa responds to two items?

16.
Which option means the child does three things?

17.
Which option means the sign painter does three things?

18.
rabbit multiplyingWhich option means the accountant does three activities?

19.
Which option means a bird doctor takes care of two things?

duck (n.) – a bird / duck (v.) put one's head down quickly
bill (n.) – the hard exterior of a bird's mouth / bill (v.) – request payment

20.
photographerWhich option means a fashion photographer does three things?

21.
Which option means a grocery store clerk manages to things?

22.
Which option means a pet groomer does four things?


pet groomer (n.) – person who washes and cuts the hair / fur of dogs and cats

23.
jewelerWhich option means a jeweler manages two items?

24.
Which one means a masseuse does three things?
a masseuse (n.) – person who gives therapy in the form of body rubs.

25.
drunkWhich one means that a bully consumes two kinds of items?


bully (n.) – an aggressive cruel person
pop (n.) – a soft drink or a soda, "soda pop" / pop (v.) – hit
punch (n.) – a drink with fruit and sometimes alcohol / punch (v.) – hit