1. TheFictionalMan
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    TheFictionalMan Member

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    Comma

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by TheFictionalMan, Oct 27, 2011.

    It's strange that I ask this question, but I've tried to figure it out on my own by other people's writings but it's always different. Can someone explain if i need to put a comma in the following example:

    I ate a good breakfast of eggs, toast (?) and bacon.

    I've seen people put the comma there and some who didn't. Which one is it?
     
  2. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    It's optional. My preference is yes because it breaks up the items in the list (doesn't look like a big deal now, but imagine if some of your items contain an "and"), but others say no because there's no need for a comma. There are vehement opinions on both sides. It's up to you, but stay consistent.
     
  3. walshy12238
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    walshy12238 Senior Member

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    I wouldn't put a comma there, but I have seen some people that do.
    I guess it just depends on what you were taught, really.
     
  4. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    It's a difference in style. I generally do put a comma to remain consistent for the times when elements of the series contain multiple parts, as Lost suggested. Honestly, I don't understand the reason why one would omit the last comma. I know it's done, and I've done it myself in news writing, following the style guides for it, but I don't understand it because the rule requires you to be inconsistent a times. It has you use the last comma if there is a chance for confusion or if the last element contains multiple parts.

    For example:
    - I have salad, chicken, and macaroni and cheese. (3 elements in the series)
    - I have salad, chicken, macaroni and cheese. (4 elements in the series, though there is the possibility for confusion imo)
    - I have salad, chicken, macaroni, and cheese (4 elements and no possibility for confusion, also consistent comma usage with first example)
     
  5. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Personally, I would use the first example, since macaroni and cheese already has an "and" in its name, it reads fine. The other two examples read extremely awkward to me as well as look awkward.

    Edit: As far as the OP's question, I would write it like this: "I ate a good breakfast of eggs, toast and bacon."
     
  6. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    It's important to note that the first example and the latter two are not the same. Not the best of examples, I agree, but in the last two examples, cheese is not part of the macaroni, it is a separate element. In the first example, macaroni and cheese is one element, like chicken or salad. In the last two examples, both cheese and macaroni are separate elements ... if that makes sense. Basically, you could have cheese, salad, macaroni, and chicken for the last two examples, but the first, if you rephrased it, you would still have chicken, macaroni and cheese, and salad. It's in cases like these that omitting the comma can cause confusion, and if you would not omit it in these cases to avoid confusion, why would you omit it in other cases? I'm just pointing out the inconsistency of the rule.

    For the OP, some sources ... Strunk and White's Elements of Style says, "In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a coma after each term except the last ... Thus write ... red, white, and blue ... gold, silver, or copper ... He opened the letter, read it, and made a note of its contents." According to that, you would use a comma after toast (eggs, toast, and bacon). But, as I mentioned in my earlier post, this is a matter of style. AP Style, for example, disagrees and says to omit the comma after the second term. Chicago style says to use a comma after the second to last term unless an ampersand (&) is used , and in that case, to omit the comma before the ampersand (i.e., Michael, John & Company) or to omit all commas if conjunctions fall between all elements (i.e., eggs and toast and bacon).

    Hope this helps. :)
     
  7. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Ahhh, I understand what you were doing now, my bad.
     
  8. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's called the serial, Oxford or Harvard comma, and as lostinwebspace says there are heated opinions on both sides. Current fashion is for minimum punctuation so most style guides oppose it in most cases, but some (notably the Oxford University Press, whence the term "Oxford comma" -- I'm guessing something similar for Harvard) mandate it in most cases.

    Both sides of the argument usually concede the other side's case if doing it their own way would lead to ambiguity. "I would like to thank my parents, Mother Theresa, and the Pope" would become ambiguous without the comma, "To my mother, Ayn Rand and God" would be ambiguous with one (the latter example from the Wikipedia article on the subject). Although both sides would first suggest rephrasing to avoid the ambiguity.

    My theoretical preference is to include the serial comma, but in practice I often don't like the way the result reads. That means that I find myself in the worst of both worlds and have to struggle to remain consistent. :-(
     
  9. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unfortunately, a rule that says always include it can require you to be inconsistent at times too.
     
  10. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    I have a strong opinion on this, but as it is a contentious issue, I'll leave most of my arguments aside. However, a few things that are worth noting:
    • The general convention in America is to include the Oxford comma (except in newspapers, likely for economy of space), so if you are an American author, or writing for a primarily American audience, you should probably tend toward using it.
    • The general‚Äč convention in Britain and other countries that tend to use British conventions is to omit the Oxford comma whenever possible (though, from what I understand, this convention is not as strong as the American one), so if you are a British author, or writing for a primarily British audience, you should probably tend toward avoiding it.
    • In dialogue, punctuation serves a dual purpose: grammar, and meter. If a character pauses in his or her diction, a comma is generally appropriate. Therefore, in my opinion, whichever convention you choose to use, it is still better to include the Oxford comma in dialogue.
     
  11. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    It's more popular in America to put a comma there, but not common in Europe.

    This site is lagging so badly today. It took me several attempts just to get this page to load. It took several more to get it to post. I'm having a hard time getting any page to load.
     

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