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Should I put a comma before the last item in a list?

In the following example, should there be a comma?

  • John has a car, and a motorbike.
  • John has a car and a motorbike.

Are both correct? What about the first sentence with comma?

Edit:

I have been told that I should use comma to join two complete sentences. So I'm confused if "a motorbike" really considered a complete sentence?

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marked as duplicate by Matt Эллен, Kris, StoneyB, kiamlaluno, Hugo Nov 24 '12 at 11:09

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Just for a little info: You can use a comma to join two individual objects too. > I love three punctuation marks: comma, period and exclamation mark –  Parth Kohli Nov 23 '12 at 5:55
    
You have a list. It's not about "complete sentences", that rule is irrelevant here. –  Matt Эллен Nov 23 '12 at 9:57

1 Answer 1

up vote 0 down vote accepted

"John has a car and a motorbike" is a complete sentence. It's correct. The other example is incorrect: "a motorbike" is not a sentence but a noun phrase. Even if you were to write "John has a car and John has a motorbike" or "John has a car and he has a motorbike" (neither of these is good style or normal native-speaker spoken or written English), you wouldn't need a comma after "and" because both are short sentences and there's no problem reading and understanding them without the comma.

[EDIT: When I say that "the other example is incorrect", I mean that the comma isn't needed. The grammar isn't affected. The punctuation, in this case, tells the reader to pause while reading or speaking because "and a motorbike" is an afterthought and requires a slight pause. Contemporary ideas about punctuation would probably indicate an em-dash ("John has a car —— and a motorbike") or an ellipsis ("John has a car ... and a motorbike") to indicate the pause. That's just writing mechanics. It doesn't affect meaning, only timing and intonation.]

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I have just recalled that a sentence contains a subject and predicate. Does a predicate also mean just a verb phrase or it can be a verb phrase? @Bill. –  user102131 Nov 23 '12 at 2:28
    
Yes, a complete sentence usually contains a subject (overt or implied) and a predicate : "2: the part of a sentence or clause that expresses what is said of the subject and that usually consists of a verb with or without objects, complements, or adverbial modifiers". "Go!" is a complete sentence: the implied subject is "You", the verb is "go", and there are no objects, complements, or adverbial modifiers; ergo, the predicate can be just a single verb (which is called a "verb phrase" even if there is only one word in the phrase). –  user21497 Nov 23 '12 at 2:36
    
I sent a letter to my parents, Mother Teresa and the Pope. –  kiamlaluno Nov 24 '12 at 3:48
    
@kiamlaluno: This is the archetypical example of when the serial comma is required. However, it's better to reorder the recipients list: "... to Mother Teresa, the Pope and my parents" if you're not a fan of the serial comma. –  user21497 Nov 24 '12 at 5:08
1  
There are cases where the serial comma causes ambiguities too, such as with "To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God." It is always possible to rewrite the phrase, whenever you are using the serial comma, or not. –  kiamlaluno Nov 24 '12 at 15:45

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