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I just came across this sentence:

Everyone has lost his country, his home, his equilibrium.

I've seen such structure used numerous times but I'm not sure how this works. What effect does it have on the sentence to remove and before the final item of the list? What rule of grammar makes this sentence grammatically correct? In terms of grammar, how do the two sentences below differ?

He sat there thinking about the past, the future.

He sat there thinking about the past and the future.

My guess was that instead of creating a list, such sentences added bracketing phrases/clauses. I'm not sure if that's the case, though, since the information added sometimes appears to be unrelated to what has come before and essential to the sentence. For instance, thoughts about the future are more important than thoughts about the past in the sentence above.

marked as duplicate by Robusto, tchrist, FumbleFingers, choster, A E Dec 8 '14 at 22:19

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    I believe it is an informal way of writing, meant to suggest that there is more to the list than that which has been included. The omission of "and" implies that further items have gone unlisted. It also seems to evoke a feeling of weariness, that the listed items have drained the individual of the desire to include 'and', or inversely a sense of energy that has left the individual far too enthusiastic to care about the omitted 'and'. In short, I believe it's a stylistic choice. – Zibbobz Aug 29 '13 at 18:48
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    Like almost any other "little word", and can be dispensed with when it's not necessary. Consider the fact that in "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" there are two places where and could go, but it only occurs in the last one. We could say "life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness", after all. So in situations like the ones you mention, there is no reason to need the and separating the parallel conjuncts, and it's not there. – John Lawler Aug 29 '13 at 18:48
  • I thought the removal of and signifies the items in the list being equal. For instance, the sentence I posted seems to suggest that country, home, and equilibrium all signify the same thing. Here I thought the additional words add extra information directly linked to what has come before. The sentence could have ended at country and still retained its meaning. However, that's not the case with the second sentence I posted where removing what comes after the comma takes away from the intended meaning of the sentence. I'm not sure if the final "and" is dispensable, by the way. – Zene Aug 29 '13 at 18:53
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    That's one interpretation of any iterated structure, whether it's conjoined with and or not. The fact that X can mean Y in some cases does not imply that X must mean Y in all cases. – John Lawler Aug 29 '13 at 19:25
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It is merely a form of emphasis. The most common sequencing is a list with an and separating the last item from the one immediately proceeding. Using the less common form without and is a way of suggesting the list is important.

I lost my money, my job, my good name. [I lost everything]

Sometimes it is used to suggest a list increasing in value. Often, when spoken, the last term is emphasized (spoken louder or with a rising inflection).

He bought a Jaguar, a company, a country!

The repeat of the article or the possessive pronoun is also commonly used in this type of construction for emphasis.

  • bib, does the construction work if the list is made up with only two things--i.e., "I lost my money, my job." – user19148 Aug 29 '13 at 19:17
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    @Carlo_R. It does. But note that there are other forms of list emphasis, even with the and. I lost my money AND my job! (The capitalization indicating emphasis in speech, again loundness and rising tone; it's sometimes even written that way). – bib Aug 29 '13 at 19:21
  • bib, thank you for the nice answer, +1. – user19148 Aug 29 '13 at 19:25
  • To quote Corneille in le Cid "Go, run, fly, and avenge us!" another example of emphasis using a list of increasing values. – Marc Aug 30 '13 at 8:05
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The omission of and is a stylistic device, which allows the writer to suggest the list not definitive, but might continue.

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    Bar, should the writer use "..." at the very end of the list--i.e., "I lost my money, my job, my good work ..." – user19148 Aug 29 '13 at 19:23
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    That might be helpful in some contexts, but I wouldn't say it was obligatory. – Barrie England Aug 30 '13 at 5:53
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This is similar to asyndeton, the rhetorical device of leaving conjunctions out for emphasis. These are not simple lists, however.

  • Veni, vidi, vici: I came, I saw, I conquered.
  • ...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
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    +1, interesting answer, but could "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité." be another example that is worth noting? – user19148 Aug 30 '13 at 1:31
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Often, it seems to suggest that the list is not a sequence of independent things but is rather multiple ways of saying the same thing. In the sentence you quote, it seems to suggest that "country" and "home" are not being used literally - you're not lost in a foreign land nor have you had your house repossessed. Instead, you've lost some essential element of your identity and you're struggling to identify exactly what it is.

  • Yes, that was my impression too. As I said in the comment above, I get that usage. What confuses me is the second sentence I posted where thoughts about the future does not follow in a similar manner from thoughts about the past. – Zene Aug 29 '13 at 18:55
  • In the second example, it to me suggests a passage of time. The "and" version would suggest you're thinking about both the past and the future at roughly the same time. The version without "and" would suggest you started thinking about the past, which then prompted you to move on to thinking about the future. – user142865 Aug 29 '13 at 19:01
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In the list without the "and", "He thought about his past, his present, his future.",there is a sense of connection,and a sense of continuity as well as a sense of sequence.

The list with "and" is just that, a list; where all items independently come together to contribute to the list.

Also, the list without the "and" creates a mood, a sense of emotion...a build up, while the list with the and is merely informative.

Lastly is the sense of finality, in the list which uses "and", while the list without "and" may hold the possibility of more.

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The absence of the final 'and' creates a more emotional tone. It is more poetic. Omitting the final conjunction creates or maintains a certain tension due to the final term not being telegraphed in advance by the 'and', which by convention signals the end of that kind of sequence.

The final 'and' guides the sentence down to a sense of landing or settling. When it's missing, the sentence stays 'up', partly because in its absence the final term is not known to be the final term until it is not followed by another term. It creates a sense of the sentence having ended prematurely, which causes the pause in between the last term and the sentence that immediately follows to be perceived differently -- if there is a following sentence, which there might not be, since it's a good place to end a paragraph/chapter/speech/etc. When spoken, that pause will likely be fractionally longer than otherwise, so the sentence can sink in, almost like letting an echo or reverb die out. It produces a different cadence. It's more dramatic, and can have an imploring quality, so it could sound silly or pretentious if used with a sequence that somehow doesn't deserve the pomp, the circumstance, the glorification. :)

I also think it's more difficult to achieve the effect with only 2 terms, because a third term is required to establish a sense of your being in a list, which is required to create a sense of a premature ending. It's because the ending feels premature that the sequence feels like it could continue. The sequence can be extended to 4 or more terms, but eventually you hit a point of diminishing returns. Though it all depends on the delivery.

A different but comparable effect can be created if instead of omitting the last 'and', you replace all of the commas with an 'and'.

It manipulates expectations.

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