Punctuation · writing tips

Use of Commas in a List

& The Magic Number of Threes

Now you’ll be learning how to use commas in a list.

You can choose to use commas in the American style or in the British style.

Americans usually use this format:comma

Apples, pears, and cherries.

British format omits (deletes) the last comma before the “and:’

Apples, pears and cherries.

Whatever you choose is okay, but be consistent. That is, always use the same style. You should decide whether you want to speak and write like a British person or like an American.

Follow the Style of the Publication comma2

Another thing you would like to consider is when you write for a publication. Let’s say you’re writing an essay for an American university. Then you can add the last commas. Or if you write for a magazine that is published in the UK, don’t use the last comma.

But remember, the main thing is to remember to use commas between the items in your list. Without the commas, your list becomes hard to understand.

The Magic of Threes

Another note, a regular list inside a text is very often only three items. When you give examples of something, three examples is a good number. Four or more will look like a lot, and two is a bit meagre (weak). So stick to the magic number of three.

List of Phrases

Your list does not have to be with only words. They can also be phrases.

Here is an example of that:

Palm Tree City is a popular city with young people because of its excellent public transportation, a huge variety of entertainment venues and lots of green spaces.

The list here, in case you missed it, is: excellent public transportation, a huge variety of entertainment venues and lots of green spaces.

So there are three items on this list:

1 excellent public transportation

2 a huge variety of entertainment venues

3 lots of green spaces

British style: excellent public transportation, a huge variety of entertainment venues and lots of green spaces.

American style: excellent public transportation, a huge variety of entertainment venues, and lots of green spaces. (with the extra comma.)

Lists with Or hug

You can also make a list with or at the end. You need or when only one item on your list is true or possible.

Example:

Do you want to go see a movie, go out for dinner, or stay at home? (American style)

Do you want to go see a movie, go out for dinner or stay at home? (British style)

With or, you have the same option to use British or American style. The last is with the extra comma, as you could see in the example.

In the quiz, I’ll give you some lists and you put in the commas. I’ll tell you which style to use, British or American.

Quiz

Do this quiz online here.

These lists need to get commas. Can you put them in? Use British or American style, as indicated.

Example:

running walking crawling (British style)

Your answer:

running, walking and crawling

swimming running cycling (British style)

washing conditioning combing your hair (American style)

Your real life will start next year the year after that or never at all! (American style)

With age come wisdom more money and lots of naps. (American style)

Wear sunscreen every day to avoid skin cancer wrinkles and ugly brown spots. (British style)

Embrace children pets and old people in need of a hug. (British style)

More articles and quizzes about punctuation here:

Full Stops

Punctuation Rules

Common Mistakes

Still have questions about the subject of this post? Let other learners know in a comment.

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