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Comma AP style

Posted by ESC on February 21, 2003

In Reply to: Comma (correcting typo) posted by R. Berg on February 20, 2003

: : : : I realize that the language does evolve and sometimes rules become blurred. I had always thought that a comma is used between all words in a series except when connected with "and." For instance, red, blue, yellow (no comma) and green lights. In a new textbook here in the U.S., the comma is used before the "and."
: : : : As in, red, blue, yellow, and green lights. Which is correct?

: : : I'm with you 120%. Separate the items in a series with commas, except for the final one, where "and" makes the comma both unnecessary and wrong.

: : : This reminds me of the famous "five ands" conundrum, where the idea is to think of a grammatically correct sentence that contains 5 sequential uses of the word "and". To cut a long story short, the landlord of a pub called "The Pig And Whistle" is having a new sign lettered to hang outside his hostelry. The signwriter calls him outside to give approval to his work. The landlord eyes the newly lettered pub sign critically and says "There's too much space between 'Pig' and 'And' and 'And' and 'Whistle'."

: : : There's another with 9 sequential uses of the word "had", but I'd have to dredge that one up from the memory banks.

: : I've seen one with seven, something like this:
: : On the English test, John had had "had," and Jill had had "had had." "Had had" had been the correct answer.

: : In the U.S., using that comma before "and" is a matter of the publisher's house style. The comma is considered more formal than the no-comma. Generally, university presses and academic journals use it; newspapers don't. Newspaper editors are always trying to save space.

Associated Press style:

1. Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series: The flag is red, white and blue.

2. Put a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series, however, if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction: I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.

3. Use a comma also before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases: The main points to consider are whether the athletes are skillful enough to compete, whether they have the stamina to endure the training, and whether they have the proper mental attitude.