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How do I properly punctuate this sentence: "Prepared, packaged, and priced beef, pork, chicken, and seafood."

I am trying to say that I did those three actions to those four kinds of meat, but I am unsure of what to do. Should there be a colon or semi-colon between priced and beef?

  • That looks perfectly fine as is. – tchrist Aug 8 '13 at 15:49
  • Can we have 'the' before and? Prepared, packaged, and priced the beef, pork, chicken, and seafood. – Ramit Aug 8 '13 at 15:55
  • It's not a "sentence" - it's just a noun phrase – FumbleFingers Aug 8 '13 at 16:18
  • As it is, it's slightly ambiguous: is everything prepared, packaged, and priced, or is it only the beef? i.e., do the adjectives distribute? – wchargin Aug 8 '13 at 22:47
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The most common form of series punctuation (at least in the US) is to place a comma after each item in the series. Some style guides say that, when using and, the comma before the and is optional. Using that approach, your phrasing would read

Prepared, packaged and priced beef, pork, chicken and seafood.

Some guides say the comma should be used before the and.

Your concern that some might find this difficult to understand is warranted. This is a sentence fragment rather than a full sentence, and that may contribute to the issue. An alternative that might help is

Prepared, packaged and priced: beef, pork, chicken and seafood.

SUPPLEMENT

After prompting from tchrist, I have found two online style guides that suggest a comma can be used before the and in a series (National Geographic says do it and Garbl's says it's optional). The above text has been modified accordingly. I don't have access to the fee-based guides but would welcome input from those who do.

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    I disagree about the serial comma. Most things I read use it. – tchrist Aug 8 '13 at 15:49
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    @tchrist I personally think that a comma should be used after each item, including those followed by and. I have been challenged and resisted in this usage for decades. I now conform to the patterns my colleagues insist upon. I will look for a published source of this unfortunate trend. – bib Aug 8 '13 at 15:54
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    Both the novels I read and the technical publications all use the serial comma. Careful writers do so. – tchrist Aug 8 '13 at 15:59
  • I don't know about other contexts - but given there are two "lists" in OP's example, it certainly seems overloaded if you include two extra Oxford commas. – FumbleFingers Aug 8 '13 at 16:21
  • @FumbleFingers They aren’t extra. Consistency is key. – tchrist Aug 8 '13 at 17:18
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Your sentence is perfectly fine; you need not worry about any further comma or semi-colon. Just remove that extra comma after packaged. We usually don't use a comma before and.

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  • Originally I'd thought the same thing about the comma before and, but my mind has changed on it now. I can't post a link because apparently it's a for-pay site, but I remember reading in the Chicago Manual of Style that commas are recommended before "and" in serial lists. The reasoning is that without the comma, one might be tempted to group the two conjoined terms into a single unit: "... with pickles, peas and carrots ..." – lmjohns3 Aug 8 '13 at 20:46
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Recast the sentence. You are not beholden to it that way: nothing was etched in stone. If it seems confusing, then it is.

You can't write any sentence and expect someone to put in proper punctuation. Sometimes the sentence itself borders on ambiguity, and therefore should be recast.

To quote William Watt:

To best thing about writing something on paper is that you can always change it. It is easier to twist a bad sentence on paper into a good one, than it is to write one out of the clear blue air.

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  • You can't write any sentence and expect someone to put in proper punctuation. Sometimes the sentence itself borders on ambiguity, and therefore should be recast. – August Canaille Jul 3 '17 at 19:21
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    Although I think the question of dubious quality, and agree with your remarks, they are not an answer. I suggest that you delete it and use it as a comment. Otherwise it is likely to be deleted as low-quality. (Friendly advice. Don't shoot the messenger.) – David Jul 3 '17 at 23:24
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The question of using the comma before the word "and" is a common one with writers. It's called the Oxford comma or the serial comma. Both are correct, depending on the style guide you're using. The NY Times doesn't use it, many other publications do. It's a choice made by the writer/editor and needs to stay consistent after the decision is made. However, there was a recent ruling by a judge in Maine (I think) that said that omission of the Oxford comma was confusing when describing the requirements for the employees at a Dairy. He ruled that the serial/Oxford comma was legally needed to resolve the issue of clarity. So while it's not always the style to use the Oxford comma, it's always clearer in communication and has been ruled as such in a US court. Yay for the Oxford comma!

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