10 February 2009

The Serial Comma

I'm just nitpicking as usual, but I'm really curious what the right usage of commas is when used in a series. I go with 'A, B, C, and D.' I'm not sure if this is the correct way to use it, but I must at some point in my life have been taught to do this because I have been using it that way so diligently (even though I have no idea where or who taught me that, way back in school most likely).

However, 90% of the time, I see people leave out the comma before the conjunction - A, B, C and D. All major newspapers, most books that I read use it this way. And just when I start to think I'm wrong in using the comma before the conjunction, I see someone using it the same way I do.

I'm too lazy to research. And besides, I promised myself I wouldn't waste time researching anything to do with grammar :P But I'm still curious. I know it's a trivial issue, every time I mention this, my friends shake their heads and give me this exasperated little look. But every time I see a sentence with the missing (according to me) comma, it screams out at me. I want to make sure I'm not bothered for the wrong reason.

So A,B, and C or A, B and C - what exactly is the right usage here?

14 comments:

Sekibuhchhuak said...

Hotunu ber i buai chuan keini phei chu kan van buai nasa dawn em! :-)

Tak takin, ka lo chik ngai miah lova. A,B , C and D tih hi chu a dik zawk hmel ka ti. Dik tak maw :-)

Nags said...

The correct usage is A,B, and C for our email purporses. But you can use it both ways depending on what you want to say.

Dr. Nitin More explained this in our english classes with a beautiful example.

For a book dedication, if someone wrote "to my parents, Hari and Kamala" we would interpret this as him mentioning his parents' names - Hari and Kamala.

But if you want to dedicate the book to your friends Hari and Kamala in addition to your parents, then you should be saying "to my parents, Hari, and Kamala"

In all likelihood, you learnt this at Google too :)

aduhi said...

I would definitely say "A,B, and C" is the right usage because if you look at it A and B and C become individual entities, each one separated by the comma. But if you say "A, B and C" it could also mean A plus "B and C" in which case B and C are grouped together thus making them one and not clearly defined as to what is what.

But let me also add - I use both styles though I try to stick to the first as much as I can but sometimes you just forget to put that little comma in there.

Jerusha said...

seki - Hei I hnuai a kan expert te sawi dan hi chuan a dik anih hmel :)

nags - I was already confused about this when I got into Dr Nitin's classes, and no matter what I was told, because I kept seeing people using it minus the comma, I remained unconvinced. That's probably why I failed almost all my tests in Dr More's classes haha

aduh - I feel better now. I understand the grouping part i think. For exmaple - my brother, a violinist and a guitarist, meaning my brother who is both a violinist and a guitarist, and not 3 people, my brother, a violinist, and a guitarist, right? So since all your experts are agreeing with me, why is it that hardly anyone uses it!

nohiddendepths said...

Huis Jeru, hetah technical writer kan awm laiin 'commas in a series' ah ilo buai mai2, min rawn zawh mai awm :D

On a serious note, in documentation, you use A, B, and C for an American audience and for a European/British audience, you use A, B and C :)

- BW

nohiddendepths said...

To add to my comment above, in a series that has three or more elements, you separate the elements with commas. AND, when a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, use a comma before the conjunction.

Examples:
- Chapter 15 is an alphabetical reference to commands, procedures, and related topics.
- You need a hard disk, an EGA or VGA monitor, and a mouse.

The above examples are from Microsoft's Manual of Style
for Technical Publications (MSTP).

We don't use "The Chicago Manual of Style", that's also another good place to look at :)

Mahni 'line' na na na, ka rawn comment ta duah anih khi :))

-BW

Jerusha said...

Zimi - wowezaa! Thanks for all these, stupidly enough, I always thought technical writers main job is to watch out for technical issue misses but not so much about the grammar and punctuations :P

nohiddendepths said...

The above style guides are biased towards American publications, so my first comment is the hard-and-fast rule.

"....technical writers main job is to watch out for technical issue misses but not so much about the grammar and punctuations :P"

Hets! kan profession hi a turu naak alaia! :))

Kan ti leh duah teng :))

Technical writer: "A technical writer is a professional writer who designs, writes, creates, maintains, and updates technical documentation—including online help, user guides, white papers, design specifications, system manuals, and other documents. Engineers, scientists, and other professionals may also produce technical writing, sometimes handing their work to a professional (READ professional) :)) technical writer for editing and formatting. A technical writer's primary responsibility is to produce technical documentation for technical, business, and consumer audiences."

Sometimes, technical writers are also called "Glamorized Clerks" :))

vana said...

Ka hriat lo zawng tak. Mi hian thil hi in chik peih a, comments te nen ka fing leh sawt mai. Mizo tawng ah hian ziakzawm tur leh tur lohah hian ka buai fo mai.

Lucy said...

In a Forum where I used to ask English usage, most of the people answered that A, B, and C is the right way to use comma. I have researched this a while ago and found some useful info. I'll be sure to send the link when I have time.

Jerusha said...

Mr Glamourised Clerk - Dayum! I've always thought no one can go wrong with being a "writer" but I was wrong. That's like writing = human feelings/passion that makes it so wonderful :P But I guess if you're passionate about technical updates, it'll be the same way for you.

Vana - Blog tlangpui hi a post tak aiin a comment hi a ngaihnawm zawk ziah a, zirtur a awm pawhin comment lamah a tam zawk zel. Comments hi chhiar uluk tur :)

Luce - Please do. Any easy link would be appreciayed.

Calliopia said...

Couldn't agree with you more that ever so often, rather than the actual blog posts, the comments which follow are usually a lot more fun and informative to read.

Me, I usually go with the A, B and C usage. Very few people are finicky about grammar anymore. Even English teachers, yes indeedy. In any case, I think I'm old and cranky enough to not give a flying shit about what's wrong or right anymore. Yep and I'd drink to that if I were the drinking kind. Cheers.

claytonia vices said...

Both are actually correct but the comma before the end is usually used to avoid ambiguity in certain situations. Yes, aduhi has the perfect example. I wanted to give this example: "We shopped at Reliance Fresh, Big Bazaar, and Laurence and Mayo".

Newpapers and other publications usually have their own style guide which set guidelines with how they should deal with this situation and everyone has to follow it.

Technical writing style guides almost always recommend a comma before the 'and' (and also 'or') to avoid confusion.

DayDreamBeliever said...

I belong to the a,b, and c school. As for the whys and wherefores, I think it's been amply elucidated. :)