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I am attempting to write a list of pairs of people, like so: "The pairings are Bob and Jane, Joe and Mary, and Fred and Ashley." This works fine in that the comma lets you know where each pairing is broken up. However, if I only have two pairings, I'm not entirely sure how to phrase that. Both options I can think of look incredibly awkward to me, and I'd like to know which is the preferred way of phrasing it (or if there is another way that I did not mention).

Option 1 is "The pairings are Bob and Jane and Joe and Mary." without a comma, which is hard to parse.

Option 2 is "The pairings are Bob and Jane, and Joe and Mary.", which looks awkward to me because there are only two things in the list, and usually you omit the comma for that.

Any help on this would be much appreciated.

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3  
Bob with Jane, and Joe with Mary. –  Peter Shor Jul 27 at 2:45
1  
Have you searched through previous posts? This is one of those cases for the Oxford comma: 'Bob and Jane , and Joe and Mary.' Other than what has already been discussed on this site, the rest of the question of rephrasing is off-topic: proof-reading & largely opinion based. –  Kris Jul 27 at 6:20

7 Answers 7

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The pairings are Bob and Jane, as well as Joe and Mary.

or

The pairings are Bob/Jane and Joe/Mary.

or

The first pair consists of Bob and Jane, and the second of Joe and Mary.

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I usually use "as well as" to avoid multiple occurrences of "and" in a single sentence. –  painfulenglish Jul 27 at 9:52
    
I ended up going for the second one with the slashes, it still conveys the information needed without tons of extra words. –  skizzerz Jul 27 at 18:32

Why not just

The pairings are Bob and Jane, Joe and Mary?

If the lack of a conjunction really bothers you, try

The pairings are: Bob and Jane, Joe and Mary.

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2  
That second one also lacks a conjunction though. –  George Pompidou Jul 27 at 2:23
    
@GeorgeCapote It does. But it is common to use a colon to precede a list that often omits a conjunction. The colon sort of makes up for the lack. –  bib Jul 27 at 20:12

That's why English has on the one hand and on the other hand.

The two couples are Bob and Jane on the one hand and Joe and Mary on the other.

Or you can just say:

The first couple is Bob and Jane; the second couple is Joe and Mary.

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@tchrist: Yes; corrected. Thx. –  Drew Jul 27 at 2:12

Try

The pairings are Bob with Jane and Joe with Mary.

(as Peter Shor suggested in his comment)

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Different sentence structures may solve your problem. For example,

  • Bob is paired with Jane, and Joe with Mary.
  • Bob's partner is Jane, and Joe's partner is Mary.

Alternatively, numbering may help:

  • The two pairings are (1) Bob, Jane and (2) Joe, Mary.
  • The two pairings are (1) Bob and Jane and (2) Joe and Mary.
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The word 'plus' is a useful synonym for 'and' in situations like this. So:

"The pairings consist of Bob and Jane plus Joe and Mary."

Where the pairings each comprise people who are intimately connected, couples would be a more normal-sounding term:

"The couples consist of Bob and Jane plus Joe and Mary."

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Put the pairings in a table, or bulletted list.

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