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I am a technical writer, and often I find concluding a list of requirements with "as applicable" is useful, because not all items in a list of requirements are relevant in all cases.

Consider a sentence such as:

In your application, please include your telephone number, cell phone number, e-mail address, names of maiden aunts, and a list of schools you have attended.

It calls for an "as applicable" at the end because you may not have a maiden aunt, for instance.

Should the phrase be written as:

...schools you have attended, as applicable.

or

... schools you have attended as applicable.

The first has the comma after the list, the second does not. My intuition says you should use the comma, but I cannot think of a reason why. I would like a reason, so I can convince another writer that the comma should be there.

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You intuition sounds reasonable. A comma indicates a pause in speech - that's all there is to it, really. If you were using speech to rattle off such a long list of requirements to someone, you'd obviously pause after the last actual requirement (if only for breath! :). So stick a comma in. –  FumbleFingers Mar 4 at 2:40
    
@FumbleFingers I was going to say the same, but I really wanted to see if anyone could point to a grammatical reasoning for this. The comma is after all the most dangerous weapon in the grammar arsenal! –  David M Mar 4 at 2:44
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@David: I have very little interest in grammarians telling me I must set parenthetical clauses off in commas, & such. So far as I'm concerned orthography is the poor relation of real language, which is spoken. If the spoken form requires a pause to disambiguate possible meanings (as it did in the last sentence), there must be a comma in the written form. In all other cases, commas are optional. –  FumbleFingers Mar 4 at 2:59
    
@FumbleFingers This is why you and I agree so often. But, I'm trying to become a better grammarian so that I will stop being yelled at by grammarians. ;) –  David M Mar 4 at 3:25
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@David: That's one way, I guess. Another is just yell back at them, only LOUDER! –  FumbleFingers Mar 4 at 3:44

2 Answers 2

The comma isn’t so much a dangerous weapon as an easily blunted scalpel.

Whatever pointing practice you follow, mechanical or rhetorical, using too many commas tends to blur the significance of each. So while FumbleFingers is exactly correct in suggesting that a comma before as applicable marks the natural pause you take in speech before adding this qualification to what has gone before, its significance is confused by the presence of all those other commas which serve a different purpose.

I suggest instead that a more readable solution would be to mark this phrase with different points—it might be parentheses, it might be dashes—and that you place the parenthesis before the list, to avoid distressing your readers by implying that their applications will be defective if they fail to include the names of maiden aunts they don’t have:

In your application, please include (as applicable) your telephone number, cell phone number, e-mail address, names of maiden aunts, and a list of schools you have attended.

(And if it wuz me I’d do something to clarify the scope of that your, which at present gives the impression of including (your) names... and (your) list..., too. But once I start rewriting I find it hard to stop.)

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Love it. Do you just effortlessly manage to write so much easily-parsed text with so few commas, or do you have to go back over it after writing, looking for surplus commas to expunge? I think I always use too many (and too many full stops where a comma would have been enough). It's a bad habit that's hard to break. –  FumbleFingers Mar 4 at 3:48
    
I, personally, try to use, as I see fit, as many commas as possible. :-) Great answer! I might even go so far as to suggest: In your application please include all that apply: –  David M Mar 4 at 3:55
    
@FumbleFingers Actually, my besetting fault is semicolons. Commas are easy: commas are breaths, and as an ex-theatre guy (specifically, an ex-Shakespeare-and-Shaw guy), I'm used to thinking of a breath as 15-30 words rather than 4-5, because I don't have to stop to make them up. –  StoneyB Mar 4 at 3:55
    
@StoneyB So, it is more a matter of cardiovascular health than grammatical correctness? –  David M Mar 4 at 3:57
    
@DavidM As long as you establish the habits early, they'll stick around after the cigarettes give you the hook. –  StoneyB Mar 4 at 3:58

What FumbleFingers and StoneyB said.

But there is also a grammatical reason for the comma, if you place the as applicable at the end of the sentence. You have provided a list of possible answers, the last of which is a list of schools. Without a comma to set off as applicable, the delimiting phrase might be misconstrued to apply only to the last item list rather than the list entire. While StoneyB's repositioning of the modifier is a more effective solution, the comma reduces the chance of confusion.

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