Hot Potato: Food for Thought
The Final Serial Comma
1997 October 20

There is a misguided typographic force at work which is damaging the English language. As a typographer, I sympathize. As a writer I'm aghast. I refer to the elimination of the final comma in a series. Typographers want to eliminate as much noisy trash from a page as possible, and this is a noble objective. Clarity, however, comes first.

In the case of apples, pears, and grapes, the comma is not absolutely essential for comprehension. In the case of radishes, fish and chips, Buffalo wings and thighs, and beer nuts, the final serial comma makes this long and complex series immediately comprehensible.

Since it's sometimes needed, it must always be used for the sake of consistency, easy and rapid comprehension, and clarity.

Follow William Strunk (The Elements of Style) on this point: "In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last."

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