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When to use commas with 'and' and 'or'?

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Which one is correct?

I had rice, curry, and vegetables for dinner


I had rice, curry and vegetables for dinner

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5 answers



The Oxford comma has been mentioned, and my personal take on the rule is: if it's a simple list then leave the comma out, otherwise use a comma.

So, for example:

My favourite colours are red, green and blue.

And with a comma:

My favourite colours are red, green, and a rather naughty blue which always reminds me of my time in Paris.

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donald remero [ Moderator ]

There is definitely no hard and fast rule -- at least in general. However, once you decide which style to use, then you should definitely use it consistently.

If you are writing for a trade journal, academic journal, or are otherwise expected to conform to a certain standard, the applicable style guide will always tell you what the policy is. Most corporate style guides that I have seen will provide a series of preferred authorities for any issues not explicitly covered.

The Chicago manual, which originated as a style guide for (mostly academic) book editing at the University of Chicago Press, recommends the use of the serial comma; the AP manual, which is a guide for newspaper editing, recommends against it.

For technical and non-fiction book writing (if I am the one who gets to make the choice), I enforce the use of the serial comma. I base that decision on the idea that clarity is the highest value, and that trumps concerns over mere style and page/line count. This I assume is the basic reasoning behind the Chicago recommendation.

For blogs, fiction, and newspaper/magazine-like media, I generally opt for leaving them out, placing more value on saving column inches (line breaks) and presenting a 'cleaner' type image (with the 'modern' idea of getting as much punctuation out of the way as possible). This is what I assume is the basic reasoning behind the AP recommendation.

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lametón [ Editor ]

It depends on the language conventions. For example, in spanish the first one is incorrect, you need to use the latter one, whereas in english i tend to see the former a lot more.

NN comments

By the way, in spanish we don’t need to reach a consensus as the Real Academia de la Lengua Española can sponsor a specific rule as a norm (this sounds less democratic than the english way, but the RAE just dictates what is already widely spread, and converts it into norm, so you don’t need to argue anymore or have anyone say “I prefer to do it this other way”)

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