Comma Before And in Lists
A lot of people have strong feelings about putting a comma before and in a list. Exactly why this particular quirk of comma usage stirs such passions is hard to say; it’s just one of those things. If you’ve ever heard someone arguing about serial commas or Oxford commas, this is what they were talking about.
Let’s say your dog has so many great qualities that you just have to tell the world. When you list your dog’s qualities, you have to use a comma after each quality you list except the one that comes immediately before and. That comma is optional.
The sentence is correct with or without the comma before and. (There are a few exceptions that require you to use the Oxford comma in a list, but they are pretty rare.) Just be consistent. Don’t switch back and forth in the same document between using the Oxford comma and not using it. [Unless one of the exceptions apply.]
I stole all that from Grammerly.
There’s more to the article, you should go read it. I would never use a serial comma unless it was justified. If readers or editors put them into my text, I take them out. The reason middle-schoolers were taught to go ahead and use it all the time, because it was acceptable (but not preferred) is most of them couldn’t distinguish between when they should use it and when not to.
I was asked for an example of where I would use one. I believe I used one twice in The Interrogation. Maybe three times and the third wasn’t necessary, it just made the read flow better.
Here’s one where I did:
At the intersection of the main hallway and the side hall to the elevator bay on the third floor of police headquarters, arrows on the walls pointed to ELEVATOR, ASSAULTS and HOMICIDE.
It doesn’t say how many arrows. Are there only two? One to “elevators” and one to “Assaults and Homicide”? Nope. There are three. Which is clear when the serial comma is included:
At the intersection of the main hallway and the side hall to the elevator bay on the third floor of police headquarters, arrows on the walls pointed to ELEVATOR, ASSAULTS, and HOMICIDE.
Does it matter? Does the reader really need this information about arrows? Well, the first version can also be read as “Assaults and Homicide” being a single entity. But in either case, in this particular story, the reader having a clear understanding of the separation of the two is important. Here’s the 1st sentence of the next graph:
The arrow to Homicide was superfluous, as the open entrance to the squadroom was across from the arrow. The only thing separating the hallway from the Homicide Bureau was the information desk at which sat …
There’s going to be a lot of action in this limited area and we need a picture of it in our minds.
And, besides, Assaults is way down the hall.
But there are many sentences with lists where no serial comma can be found, nor should they be. I don’t care if you use commas anyplace you want. I don’t care if you never use them. I care that people nag me about it. Don’t. I make plenty of actual mistakes.