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Is it right to put a comma before the dash that introduces a series?

As the mentor of the original five interns, — Meredith, Cristina, Alex, the runaway Izzie, and the now dead George — Dr. Bailey...

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  • Perhaps you can, but I don't think you need to. – Kris Dec 15 '13 at 11:47
  • The comma after interns adds nothing. – Barrie England Dec 15 '13 at 11:48
  • Or would it be better if I wrote "As the mentor of the original five interns -- Meredith, Cristina, Alex, the runaway Izzie, and the now dead George--, Dr. Bailey...... I am really confused. Is the comma necessary? If so, where to put it? I think that is my problem. – gelolopez Dec 15 '13 at 12:06
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Logically, the comma should go after the dashes, since it separates the prepositional phrase from the main part of the sentence, and the names enclosed in dashes are part of the prepositional phrase.

However, to many people (myself included), a dash followed by a comma just looks awkward and inelegant, and it might even cause them to stumble in their reading.

Removing the comma is an acceptable option and a matter of style and consistency; but to me, sentence-initial prepositional phrases as long as yours that are not separated from the main sentence with a comma are just as awkward.

Rather than fiddling with where or whether to put the comma, I would suggest simply substituting parentheses for the dashes. The meaning is almost the same—close enough, anyway—and commas are not awkward following parentheses:

As the mentor of the original five interns (Meredith, Cristina, Alex, the runaway Izzie, and the now dead George), Dr. Bailey was …

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  • You had me at the first paragraph but lost me at the second. Inelegant? Awkward? Excuse me? I've been seeing and using that punctuation all my life. – RegDwigнt Dec 15 '13 at 15:15
  • @Reg, added clarification. Some people are fine with it, but many (like me) find punctuation after parenthetical sentences set off by dashes to be a bit of an eyesore. The last sentence before the blockquote in my answer could easily have had a comma as well: “The meaning is almost the same—close enough, anyway—, and commas are not …”; but it just looks clumsy to me. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 15 '13 at 15:19
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Just remove the comma. The em-dashes do the work of separating off the appositive phrase (listing the interns) which commas would otherwise do.

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  • The comma isn’t separating the appositive phrase, but the prepositional phrase that contains it. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 15 '13 at 15:11

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