To comma or not to comma, what a proofreader should do or not do


Simple question for you proofreaders, to you add a comma in a series before the word “and?”

Do you:

  • Pencil, pen, and paper with comma
  • Pencil, pen and paper without comma

. . . Or do you follow the style of your client?


When I first started teaching we taught students that the “and” was used instead of a comma. That worked fine for single words in a series like your example. But later in my teaching career, we taught students to put a comma before the “and” for the following reason. (I found the example online. By the way, it even has a special name, the Oxford comma.)

While some authorities say that the comma before the conjunction is optional, leaving it out may cause confusion, so it is better to include it.

_Incorrect: The street was filled with angry protestors, shouting spectators and police. _
(Leaving out the last comma makes it look like the police were shouting, too.)

_Correct: The street was filled with angry protestors, shouting spectators, and police. _
(Makes it clearer.)

I hope this helps. :upside_down_face:


Useful info here about ‘the listing comma’:

BTW - although known as ‘the Oxford comma’ few of we Brits would use it! Just different conventions.




While the rhinoceri are a very nice example and a good illustration of why sometimes grammar rules are changed, or, like lately*, many things “officially” nowadays are up to the writer or typist, who can apply common sense (or not) :wink: , I leave the commas as the writer seems to prefer them, in English texts (which I do not proofread anyway “as a job/gig”, but I often point out the graver kind of typos or plain mistakes in the English source (or not so source) texts I get); in German, it´s different again, most rules are stricter and the intricate German comma rules are a neverending source of pleasure, but getting OT now.

What I’d like to point out, though, even if even more OT :wink: , at this fantastic occasion…

Please, dear people, when you use “etc.”, do not write “and etc.” … the “and” comes with the “etc.” as a totally free feature, that saves you the time typing it, hey!, how cool is that;
“etc.”, written out, is “et cetera”, the “et” bit being, you guessed it by now, “and”, so writing “and etc.” is like writing “and and others”.

Sorry for this, but I do see it quite often and it lets my hair stand up. Which doesn´t look good with long hair. (On a similar note, it´s “per se”, not “per say”. Latin, y’know.) :eyes:

To get back to the formidable rhinoceri (rhinoceri are above and beyond OT, right?), the rules, or rather the anarchy, regarding plural forms of Latin terms we all use, are fun too.

*lately here meaning pretty recently, of course. If we look back far enough… :smiley:
I happened to stumble over an “old” German grammar book on the Gutenberg Project website, “old” meaning just above the copyright threshold. Very funny.
Though … nothing can beat phone autocorrection for philological fun, these days. :wink:


I’m an Oxford comma user. In fact, I find it hard to write non-Americanized English. I do, however, reserve the right to chuckle at American pronunciations of words like aluminum. Also, color and gray, kind of rub me up the wrong way. It’s just not right.


This post is fun. :slightly_smiling_face:


Generally I will use them but it depends on the overall flow of the sentence.

The commas that get me are when using the word “though”. eg
I prefer not to have 2 commas in sentences like this, though, many people seem to use them.
For me, either comma is legitimate but not both.


That´s a good example, too, (:arrow_left: as is this :smiley: ) in such cases, I tend to write it the way I´d say/think it; if I pause twice, it gets 2 commas, if just once, it will have to make do with one.


For me, commas are the hardest thing of all about grammar so I often don’t use them when I should out of confusion, and this is coming from the forum’s number :one: grammar nazi.




I may or may not use comma before “and” - depending on context. Some people insist on it while others don’t care.

When in series, I don’t use it, when not in series as some of the examples, I use it. When it’s confusing such as Lincoln and Washington being a Rhinoceri - my current editor rewrites the who thing for me. :grin:


I usually follow the client’s lead. If they use the serial comma in most places, I will stay consistent.

That said, my background is in journalism, so I follow AP which says absolutely NO to the serial comma.


You’re chuckling at the American pronunciation? Please, show me where that extra “I” is!


How do you pronounce it, alu-MINium?


That is actually how it is spelled in UK English, with an additional “i” and is therefore the original way.
Unfortunately it seems like it was too difficult for certain countries to pronounce with 5 syllables so they simplified it for themselves and removed one.


No it was too slow that way


Pencil, pen, and paper with comma --> When you want to have a longer pause after “pen”.
Pencil, pen and paper without comma --> When you’re speaking in a normal manner, with normal speed.

P.S. I use a comma before the last word for emphasis. When I want the last word or expression to be the strongest one.