On Tue, Apr 20, 2010 at 01:57:13PM +0000, Paul Rubin wrote:
> AFAIK "A, B and C" is the predominant usage in the U.S. (where, given the 
> state
> of our educational system, we're lucky if we get the first comma). That's 
> what I
> was taught (in New York) (after the American Revolution).  Can't speak for the
> Brits, but perhaps they use the second comma. They certainly seem fond of 
> extra
> vowels.

My Gowers edition of Fowler discusses this.  Fowler seems to think
that the main point is to avoid ambiguity, so that you normally
punctuate "A, B and C", but need a comma in some cases.  The text
concedes, however, that some people prefer to put the comma every
time, for consistency, since it's sometimes needed to avoid ambiguity.
This appears to be left as a matter of taste.  (The reason not to do
it, of course, is that in an enumeration the comma really stands for
"and", so to add a comma before the "and" would be otiose.)

Examples of ambiguity (again from Fowler):

"Tenders were submitted by John Brown, Cammel Laird, Vickers, and
Harland and Wolff."  Without the comma after Vickers, you wouldn't
know that the last firm to submit was "Harland and Wolff".

"The smooth grey of the beech stem, the silky texture of the birch,
and the rugged pine."  Here, without the comma after birch, it would
read as though both the birch and the rugged pine have a silky

If you think that the ambiguous cases like those above are common
enough, and you want a consistent rule, then you should put the comma
after B.  Otherwise, you should only use the comma when you actually
need it (and A, B and C would be the right way in that case).  Isn't
it nice to have rules that start with "it depends"?


Andrew Sullivan
Shinkuro, Inc.

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