Do you have to put a comma before and in a list?

Rule #1. You need a comma before coordinating conjunction linking two independent clauses

A group of words that can easily serve as a separate sentence is called an independent clause. When you want to combine two such independent clauses in one sentence using a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, so, etc.), there should be a comma before this coordinating conjunction.

I went to the mall to score new boots, but I failed to find my size.

Both clauses in this sentence could stand alone as separate sentences. Coordinating conjunction but combines them into one sentence, so we should use a comma.

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Rule #5. Use a comma in sentences beginning with Yes or No

This one is a quite simple rule. If you have “yes” or “no” at the beginning of a sentence, you need a comma after them. Easy.

Yes, I’d like to have some more ice cream.

Should I use a comma before an opening quotation mark?

When you include quoted material or dialogue in a sentence then you should proceed it with a comma unless it fits into the flow of the sentence seamlessly, e.g. The President said that there is “no smoking gun” to be found.

In these cases, the sentence would be syntactically correct without the quotation marks, and you are just using the quotation marks to show that the quote is a direct quote. Often, in this scenario, the quote will be preceded by “that”, e.g. He said that “the country will continue to grow.”

Otherwise, you should use a comma before opening quotation marks, e.g. Sandra called out, “What do you want from the store?”

Don’t use a comma when “and” separates and independent clause from a dependent clause

Now that we know what an independent clause is, what about a dependent clause?

Dependent clauses will almost always be accompanied by a dependent clause.

A dependent clause by itself would not make any sense. It would make the reader confused about what you’re trying to say.

When you’re separating a dependent clause from an independent clause, you will not use a comma.

If you’re wondering if a sentence with “and” has a dependent clause, try this…

Take away the “and”. Replace it with a full stop. Does it make sense? If the answer is no, you do not need a comma.

Examples of “and” separating an independent and a dependant clause

“It was a popular film and brought in £10k”.

“He wanted to kill her and take over the world”.

“50 years ago, he discovered fire and burnt himself”

“Henry VII was a great king and an ever greater man”.

“Therefore this idea is stupid because it can get people killed and cost us a lot of money”.

“I drink 6 glasses of water a day and 5 glasses of milk a week”.

“The lamp is a big, red thing and burns a lot”.

“I own a pot of pencils which I keep in a glass jar and are very useful”.

Errors and Solutions

Error and Solution

Error and Solution

ERROR

~The appeal of Tesla’s Model S lies in its sexy sports car design.

(What is sexy—the sports, the car, or the design?)

~Punch mark or fill-in your ballot. 

(Unclear meaning)

~I would like to thank my brothers, Sarah and Mary.

(Two brothers with female names? )

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

(Not incorrect, but not the usual grouping.)

~Bob Dylan’s musical styles include folk and rock and roll and rhythm and blues and country and gospel. 

(Unclear meaning—what are the musical styles?)

SOLUTION

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!   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. (Four or mrore people: # brothers and Sarah and Mary) 

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)

Bob Dylan’s musical styles include folk, rock and roll, [and] rhythm and blues, country, and gospel.

Separate the genres (styles with commas to avoid confusion.

*not used / ~marginal use, requires a special context to be understood

What are the 8 Commas Rules?

Whether it comes before and or elsewhere in a sentence, following basic comma rules can make using this misunderstood punctuation mark a breeze. In a nutshell, we use commas to:

  • list items,
  • separate adjectives,
  • join independent clauses,
  • offset introductory and nonessential phrases,
  • introduce quotations, and
  • maintain flow.

Whew! Take a breath. Let’s take a closer look at each of these rules.

Rule 1: Use a Comma in a Series or List

When creating a list of three or more simple words, items, or concepts, use a comma to separate each word or word group.

She made a casserole out of chicken, pasta, and leftover broccoli.

Note: Using a comma after the next-to-last item in a list is a stylistic choice and may depend on the style guide you’re following.

Rule 2: Separate Adjectives With a Comma

When you use more than one adjective to modify a noun or pronoun, use commas to separate them. This is only true if the adjectives’ order is interchangeable.

She had a happy, healthy baby.

Note: This could easily read: She had a healthy, happy baby.

Rule 3: Use a Comma When Joining Two Independent Clauses

When a conjunction (for example: and, or, and but) links two independent clauses, you need to put a comma before the conjunction.

He walked through the building, but he didn’t turn on any lights.

Note: An independent clause must have a subject and verb. It should express a complete thought.
A comma splice occurs when two independent clauses are joined together using only a comma.

Rule 4: If a Sentence Begins With a Dependent Clause, Use a Comma After It

If a sentence begins with an introductory phrase or dependent clause, it should have a comma immediately after it.

If you’re going to the store, pick me up a gallon of milk.

Rule 5: Offset Nonessential Words, Phrases, or Clauses With Commas

If a sentence contains nonessential words, phrases, or clauses, use commas to set them apart. These nonessential sections often begin with words such as who or which. They may be removed from a sentence without altering its meaning.

Adam, who had loved Marybeth since he was in elementary school, knew it was time to let her go.

Rule 6: Commas Introduce Direct Quotations

Direct quotations, such as dialogue, should be preceded by commas.

When she brought her dog to Florida, her aunt warned, “Watch out for those toxic cane toads!”

Commas may also be used to express interruptions to direct quotations.

“Never,” she responded, “would my dog go after anything bigger than a fly.”

Rule 7: Commas Set Off Phrases That Interfere With Sentence Flow

Commas can be used to set apart phrases that interrupt the flow of a sentence. These may include expressions such as by the way, after all, and nevertheless.

That store clerk, by the way, was once an executive at an international bank.

Commas are used to set apart interrupters or phrases that interrupt the flow of the sentence.

Rule 8: Commas Set Off Names, Nicknames, and Titles

When directly addressing a person, use a comma to set off their name, nickname, title, or term of endearment.

I didn’t mean to say that, sir.

Will you, Elizabeth Pruitt, marry me?

Sleep well, Love Bug!

When should I use a comma to separate numbers?

In English, we use commas in numbers greater than 999 to split the number and make it clearer. We use a comma every third digit from the right.

Incorrect: More than 50000 people turned up to protest. Correct: More than 50,000 people turned up to protest.

Note how much easier it is to read. The comma every third digit is sometimes known as a “thousands-separator.” Make sure you don’t include a space on either side of this comma.

Correct: We will walk 10,000 miles.

Incorrect: We will walk 10, 000 miles.

Incorrect: We will walk 10 , 000 miles.

Incorrect: We will walk 10 ,000 miles.

When a number uses a decimal point, we never place commas to the right of the decimal point. Some people like to use thin spaces going from left to right instead.

Correct: The value of Pi is 3.14159 to five decimal places.

Correct: The value of Pi is 3.14 159 to five decimal places.

Incorrect: The value of Pi is 3.141,59 to five decimal places.

Incorrect: The value of Pi is 3.14,159 to five decimal places.

Numbers that are not amounts, such as phone numbers, house numbers, and years do not usually have commas inside them.

It can get confusing as many other countries (such as Spain) use commas in numbers instead of a decimal point, e.g. 100,01 instead of 100.01. In these cases, you might see a period used instead of commas or a space, e.g. 1.000,01 or 1 000,01 instead of 1,000.01.

What is a comma?

The comma is a punctuation mark that indicates a pause between the words of a sentence.

Examples
  • Anita, Rita, and Nesbit are kicking a ball.
  • Maya wrote a book, which Anita then edited for her.
  • Nesbit, a complete geek, loves nothing better than to tinker with technology.
  • This parcel was shipped from Esperance, Australia, on May 21, 1971.
  • Rita always says, “To fly is to live.”
  • This may be important, but it isn’t urgent, is it?

Unfortunately, commas are easily misused. In this article, we discuss how to use the comma correctly—when to use it and when not to.

Commas Before And: An Overview

Commas Before And are used primarily in two specific situations:

1. Joining Independent Clauses With a Conjunction

An independent clause is a phrase that expresses a complete thought. It must have both a subject and a verb. In other words, it can stand alone as a sentence.

A sentence can contain two independent clauses if they’re linked by a conjunction such as and, or, and but. (Without the conjunction, two independent clauses typically form a run-on sentence). A comma is required after the final word of the first clause, before and (or whatever conjunction you’re using).

Take these two independent clauses:

Peter often went to sci-fi conventions.

He always dressed in costume.

If you join them together with only a comma, they form a comma splice.

Peter often went to sci-fi conventions, he always dressed in costume.

If you add an and after the comma, the sentence becomes grammatically correct.

Peter often went to sci-fi conventions, and he always dressed in costume.

A sentence can contain two independent clauses if they’re linked by a conjunction such as but. Without the conjunction “but,” the two independent clauses linked only by a comma will result to a run-on sentence which is grammatically incorrect.

Exceptions to the rule:

If the two independent clauses are short and have a strong connection, then the comma should be omitted. Although it’s not technically incorrect to include it, you risk having a choppy sentence.

Peter wrote and Jonathan illustrated.

2. Before the Next-To-Last Item in a List

Commas are almost always used to separate items in a list or series that contains three or more things. More specifically, some lists contain a comma that’s known as the Oxford comma. This punctuation sits immediately after the list’s next-to-last item, just before the and or the or.

Animal-loving Judy always had a house filled with dogs, cats, birds, and hamsters.

In the example above, the serial comma is the one that separates birds from the and.

Exceptions to the Rule: In simple lists, a comma before and isn’t always necessary and doesn’t actually enhance a sentence. Sometimes, the omission of this serial comma is even advisable.

In fact, the Oxford comma is a hotly debated point in modern grammar, and ultimately, it comes down to a stylistic choice.

Carol likes to mix peas, corn, and carrots.

Carol likes to mix peas, corn and carrots.

Certain style guides, such as the AP Stylebook, don’t advocate using this serial comma unless it’s absolutely necessary for preserving a sentence’s meaning.

Some Real-Life Examples

  • A little dog can start a hare, but it takes a big one to catch it.  Basically my wife was immature. I'd be at home in
  • Basically my wife was immature. I’d be at home in my bath, and she’d come in and sink my boats.  The play was a great success, but  the audience w (Actor Woody Allen)
  • The play was a great success, but the audience was a disaster.  We make a living by what we get, but  we make a l (Playwright Oscar Wilde)
  • We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. (British Prime Minister Winston Churchill)
  • Drink is the curse of the land. It makes you fight with your neighbor. It makes you shoot at your landlord and it makes you miss him. (Well-cited Irish quotation by anon)
  • (“It makes you shoot at your landlord” and “It makes you miss him” are independent clauses. Therefore, a comma required before “and.”)

A More Complicated Example

  • Applicants must be able to tell jokes and sing, and they must be able to dance.
  • (NB: The first “and” is just a conjunction in a list.)
Applicants must be able to tell jokes and sing, andthey must be able to dance.

Ellipsis

Omitting Repeated Words (Ellipsis)

NON-MIXED TYPE

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

People with Diabetes should consume less sugar, starch, and alcohol.

ARTICLES

He bought a pair of shoes, shorts, and socks(all come in pairs) 

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, auxiliaries, 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

*People with Diabetes should consume less sugar, starch, and sugary carbonated drinks.

People should consume less sugar,  fewer sweets, and fewer sugary carbonated drinks. 

ARTICLES

~He bought a hat, shirt, and pants. (some pants)     

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.    

*not used / ~sounds awkward, not preferred wording

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

Ellipsis in a SeriesPop-Q "Ellipsis in a Series", Pop-Q "List".

“And” at the end of a list – English teachers say no comma!

Let’s start things off with a list.

When this list consists of just two items, you wouldn’t ever need to put a comma before the “and”. No Brit would ever say “Fish and, chips”, we just say “Fish and Chips”. But what about when this list consists of more than one item.

Most English teachers will tell us that you shouldn’t put a comma before “and” at the end of a long list. They will tell you off if you write, “I got eggs, milk, and bacon”.

And just to be clear, lists can also consist of phrases as well as words.

“I went shopping, walked the dog, and took out the bins” is equally incorrect- according to English teachers.

The Oxford Comma debate

However, language changes and evolves all the time, and there is now a valid argument for using the “oxford comma”.

Let’s say you’re describing your family, and you say…

“In my family, there are my parents, my brother, and my sister”. So far, that looks like a regular list, but when we drop the comma…

“In my family, there are my parents, my brother and my sister”. It now looks as though the items listed after the comma are examples of the speaker’s parents. Meaning that he is a result of sibling incest.

Examples of “And” and the end of a list

Take a look at these lists, half with, half without the oxford comma. I’ll let you decide whether or not it should remain.

With

“Apples, oranges, and pears”.

“I’ve cooked dinner, done the washing up, and ate a pie”.

“I have a head, two legs, a heart, 3 lungs, and a beard”.

“You’ve saved the castle, rescued the princess, and slain the dragon!”

Without

“Three, four and five”.

“To survive, you need water, oxygen and love”.

“Wash your hands, keep six metres apart and don’t touch your face”.

“My favourite rulers are Henry VII, Julias Caesar and Batman”.

Did You Know? Did You Know?

Whom cannot always replace who, but who can always replace whom.Know more:Who vs. Whom: How to Use Correctly

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