This is my first article about grammar and the intenti0n is just to share and not start another blogging niche. Because of some sort of confusion with my colleagues, I searched on what are the actual usage of serial comma. I am not an English major but I am doing writing works; aside for this blog, I am making a living as a technical writer.
What is a serial comma?
Serial comma, also known as series comma or final comma, is a comma placed before the coordinating conjunction such as and, or, and sometimes nor. For instance, the phrase – yesterday, now, and forever has serial comma (colored red) before the “and”.
In my elementary years, serial comma was not being iterated, in fact, what was acknowledge was the omission of such punctuation mark. It is not even used or being taught in high school and college years. All I know is that, don’t place a comma before the conjunctions (and, or, and nor) when listing or enumerating three or more items in the sentence (and that was before) which is a “wrong rule”. When I became technical writer, I was always corrected with our internal QA stating that I should place a comma before the conjunctions (and, or, nor) but the reason given was that – it is what is practiced in technical documentation. I am new so I am bound to follow.
Lately, we got a fierce word encounter with our Marketing Communications (MarCom) team where MarCom Managers insisted on placing serial commas to which I agreed because it was the one practiced in technical communications. But was my reason enough? Why it was practiced in the first place? So I decided to have my personal research and I came across a very interesting article. The Professional Training Company, on their article, explained the mystery behind the serial comma. Serial comma must be place before the conjunctions (and, or, nor) when enumerating three or more items in a sentence. Only journalist omit the use of serial comma for the reason of saving or narrowing the space on newspaper columns. Another reason why serial comma is omitted is that, it precludes ambiguities.
Authorities that mandates the use of serial commas are as follows;
- Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers, 5th Edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987, Chapter 3.68:
A series of three or more words, phrases, or clauses (like this) takes a comma between each of the elements and before a conjunction separating the last two:
Dishes had been broken, cutlery lost, and carpets damaged.
- Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, Chapter 5.5:In a series consisting of three or more elements, the elements are separated by commas. When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma is used before the conjunction . . .:
Attending the conference were Farmer, Johnson, and Kendrick.
We have a choice of copper, silver, or gold.
- Strunk and White, Elements of Style, 2nd Edition, New York: Macmillan, 1972, Chapter I. Elementary Rules of Usage, Rule 2:
In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma 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.
I also suggest you reading the Professional Training Company’ article.