Re: Commas in a series

Subject: Re: Commas in a series
From: Rollings Gill <WGILLR -at- WOK-MSMAIL-GW -dot- ISL -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 17 May 1994 10:21:00 PDT

I hope you're not all bored stiff with this - I received a whole set of
messages this morning and wanted to contribute two points to the discussion
on commas once I'd read through them.

1. I have found that this is another of those U.S. vs. U.K. English issues.
I don't usually put a comma before the final item in a straightforward
list, but my American colleagues do. As the company standard is U.S.
English and Webster's dictionary (rather than my trusty Shorter Oxford), I
lose. I have tried quoting Fowler's Modern English Usage, but to no avail.
Fowler recommends using a comma before the final item in a series if either
it or the previous item is compound (e.g., "The Princess of Wales shops at
Harrods, Marks and Spencer, and Harvey Nichols." or "The Princess of Wales
shops at Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and Marks and Spencer." Don't press me on
the veracity of that statement.)

2. On the specific example given here, I would opt for "the wires, in
order, are: white; blue and green;
and yellow." I am sure that some of you will be horrified that I up the
stakes to colon and semi-colon, but I think that the "next level" of pause
may be called for in this instance. It separates the items beyond doubt.
If you all think that I'm taking the sledgehammer to crack a nut approach,
fine - but if there is enough uncertainty among the writers to generate this
discussion, the readers are probably in a worse state!

Gill Rollings
Technical Writer
Internet Systems Ltd
gill -dot- rollings -at- isl -dot- com
To: Multiple recipients of list TECHWR-L
Subject: Re: Commas in a series
Date: 17 May 1994 10:15

In article <sfouts -at- ellison -dot- ti -dot- com> writes:
>Date: Tues, 17 May 94 08:22:10

>Now. In technical documentation you might, on exceedingly rare occasions,
>come across things like, ``the wires, in order are, white, blue and green,
>and yellow.'' In a series such as this you may want it to be painfully
>that blue and green are a unit, that there are three, not four wires.

Daily, I handle sentences listing the components of a compound, some of
are themselves compound. Further, it is often not possible to rearrange the
order of the list elements, as it may represent a temporal sequence.
The authors' use of commas in lists is inconsistent, however, and neither
the presence nor absence of a comma before the 'and' clearly indicates the
identity of, and relationship between, the list elements.

Commas and the consistent use thereof are *equally* necessary.


David L. Bergart bodafu -at- ccvax -dot- sinica -dot- edu -dot- tw bodafu -at- TWNAS886 -dot- bitnet
Copy editor Botanical Bulletin of Academia Sinica, Taiwan
"Trouble with grammar have I, yes!" - Yoda

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