Sunday, September 07, 2003

Here is where I plea for more commas.

According to AP style:
IN A SERIES: Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series: The flag is red, white and blue. He would nominate Tom, Dick or Harry.

I have a theory here: Most reporters and editors have never actually read AP's rule. They have no idea that the first — therefore arguably the most important — part of the rule is that we should use commas to separate elements in a series. The exception to this rule is a simple series — red, white and blue.

So how did this morph into "No commas before the conjuction in a series ever?" Misapplication of the serial comma rule gives us sentences like this:
That followed disagreements over issues including a tax on suburbanites who commute to the city, the pace of redevelopment at the World Trade Center site, state aid for the city budget, distribution of federal security funds and the city's attempt to refinance debt by selling bonds.
That's not a simple series. There should be a comma before the last "and."

Even worse is three complete sentences joined with a conjunction without the preceding comma:
There were plants along the wall, a bird was chipring overhead and the woman realized she'd never leave this place.
Comma, please!

Maybe what we need here is a guideline explaining what's simple and what not. In practice, I generally use a four-word rule. But it's not hard and fast. Any other suggestions or thoughts?


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