Writing for Business - A Whatis.com Blog

Oct 5 2009   12:56PM GMT

When does AP condone the serial comma?



Posted by: Ivy Wigmore
Tags:
Business writing
CIO
commas
grammar
punctuation
Quiz
serial comma

Which is correct?
Degaussing is used for a wide and disparate variety of items including ship hulls, _______ and CRT television sets and computer monitors.
a. storage media
b. storage media,


Answer: b

Explanation:
Use the serial comma in this construction and enjoy — if you want to be AP-compliant, this is one of only two opportunities you’ll have.

Using the comma here helps with the clarity of the sentence so the reader understands that CRT modifies both television sets and computer monitors.

The serial comma, AKA the Oxford comma, has been one of the most passionately argued points of punctuation for many years now. We clung to it fiercely at WhatIs for a long time — years after the rest of TechTarget had gone all AP style on it. But business writing has increasingly evolved toward the simplest style possible to convey meaning and maintain readability and, inevitably, we’ve bowed to AP.

Here’s the AP ruling on the serial comma:

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.

Put a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series, however, if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction: I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.

Use a comma also before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases: The main points to consider are whether the athletes are skillful enough to compete, whether they have the stamina to endure the training, and whether they have the proper mental attitude.

The AP Stylebook is available online.

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3  Comments on this Post

 
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  • Ira2005
    This comma used to irritate me a lot. It still does, as much as the misplaced apostrophe! Nevertheless, thanks for the explanation. I will try not to get irritated.
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  • Meandyou
    I am like WhatIs in that I cling to the extra comma. Partly because I was taught that way. But mainly, I think, because I do not like exceptions. The old rule was to use it. The new rule is to use it sometimes. If that comma is always present then one does not have to stop and consider if the conjunction is part of the over all sentence or only a part of a shorter phrase. I believe the old rule allowed for easier reading. Steve
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  • 1rabella
    The serial comma really does clarify meaning sometimes. Its use never impairs meaning, while leaving it out can. However, the trend of the last few decades has been toward increasingly simple sentences with a minimum of punctuation and I don't see that trend changing. I used to enjoy writing fairly complex sentences but our style has evolved to shorter and less complex ones to make them easier to read. It's still a matter of style, though. Some style guides still recommend the serial comma so if you want to use it, adhere to that style. In business writing, though, I think AP style dominates.
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