A fellow eTips subscriber recently asked us to clarify a common comma conundrum: I'm never sure when to place a comma before the word "and."
It’s a crucial question. Studies suggest and is the third most used word in English.
As a conjunction, and connects words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. Sometimes those connections require a comma, and other times they don’t.
When should I use a comma before and?
Add the comma in these situations:
1. Use a comma before and to separate two parts that could stand alone as sentences.
Sophia nominated Julie, and Rob seconded.
Without the comma, you might at first think Sophia nominated two people.
Sophia nominated Julie and Rob seconded.
That’s why you need a comma and a conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) when you combine two sentences into one. The comma helps readers know where one idea ends and another begins. If the and separates two parts that could stand alone as sentences, add a comma. If not, leave it out.
2. Use a comma when and connects the last item in a series of three or more ideas.
Fewer meetings would save time, increase productivity, and boost morale.
The final comma in the series is called the serial or Oxford comma. This little mark is a big point of contention in the writing world (and also at family dinners). Most leading style guides recommend the serial comma; but others, like AP Style, omit it.
We believe the serial comma is the safer, clearer choice. Leaving it out can cause confusion, sometimes to amusing effect.
I went to happy hour with Maddy, a colleague and a dog. (Your colleague is a dog named Maddy?)
The sandwiches included bacon and tomato, peanut butter and jelly and pickle and olive. (So do the options include a peanut butter and jelly and pickle sandwich, or a jelly and pickle and olive sandwich?)
When should I not use a comma before and?
Remove the comma in these situations:
1. Do not use commas when all the items in a series are connected with and.
Fewer meetings would save time and increase productivity and boost morale.
2. Do not use a comma between compound subjects or predicates.
The contractor and the city inspector examined the lateral sewer.
(NOT The contractor, and the city inspector examined the lateral sewer.)
We started the van and discovered a problem.
(NOT We started the van, and discovered a problem.)