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When I write a list of something. What are the following correct in American style.

A, B, and C.

A, B and C.

  • The first is not strictly incorrect, though most style guides recommend against it (or even strictly advocate against it). In general writing, esp., literary, the first version has a special use and conveys a (sometimes subtly) different meaning from the latter. Unless you are clear and really mean to use it, do not include a comma before the and in a list. – Kris Nov 6 '13 at 5:44
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Option 1--A, B, and C--is used more often in the US. It's called the serial or Oxford comma, and there are arguments for and against its use. However, US Government Printing Office Style Manual, APA Style Manual, MLA Style Manual, and Strunk and White's Elements of Style, all mandate the use of the serial comma. It is less frequently used in journalistic writing.

In a complex list with items within items, it's preferred to use the serial comma to avoid ambiguity. For example: John, Mary, Sue and Frank, and Jamie or John, Mary, Sue, and Frank and Jamie.

Wikipedia has a detailed overview of the use of serial commas.

  • Is 'mandate' what style manuals are considered to do? (synonyms include order, direct, command). I think I'd stick with 'recommend' or 'strongly recommend' here. Some style manuals may sound like they think they have somehow acquired absolute authority, but often contradict each other, and I for one will not bow to such claims. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 6 '13 at 10:08

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