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I'm proofreading a document in which the author ends a lot of lists with phrases like this:

We analyzed the responses of students studying: health, sciences and technology, law and economics, and human and social sciences.

Usually when I come across lists that end with two words that need to be connected by "and", I usually just substitute "as well as" or something like that. But I'm not sure if there's a standard rule for these kinds of situations. In this particular paper, there are many examples that aren't very easy to fix this way.

What's the rule?

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  • ... if there's a standard rule. This is English; we don't have rules, just patterns. Patterns that are frequently ignored and change rapidly. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 16:34
  • I don't see a problem with this example. The "human and social" I read as a compound. A similar sentence might be: "Do you want mustard, mayo and salt and pepper with that?" Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 16:37
  • Thanks, I wasn't aware that a compound makes it all good.
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 6:56

3 Answers 3

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Using "and" in this case is correct, though could perhaps be clarified by reworking the list. "As well as" is not equivalent to "and", and would be incorrect here (Chicago Manual of Style 6.18):

Note that the phrase as well as is not equivalent to and.

The team fielded one Mazda, two Corvettes, and three Bugattis, as well as a battered Plymouth Belvedere.

not

The team fielded one Mazda, two Corvettes, three Bugattis, as well as a battered Plymouth Belvedere

In this particular case, it may be that the list needs to be reworked. It reads awkwardly entirely apart from the dual "and". "Sciences and technology" is an odd phrasing, as is "human and social sciences". One would expect either "science and technology" or "sciences, technology", and "humanities and social sciences". This might not be possible to change, however, if the study itself or the school(s) at which it was conducted divide the subjects in this manner.


Regardless of whether you change the "and", you definitely want to keep the Oxford comma.

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  • I think that CMS reference refers to serial commas, though I don't have a subscription and can't log in.
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 7:03
  • I totally disagree that "as well as" is not equivalent to "and". "She is clever as well as strong." = "She is clever and strong." ... Stylistic choice, nothing more.
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 7:08
  • I definitely don't want to keep the Oxford comma. Every publisher has their own guidelines, and this one expressly forbids it. I personally disagree with the logic of it. If one must write "toast, bacon, and eggs", then why not "bacon, and eggs"? ... That said, I often mix and match use of the serial comma, especially for lists of phrases, in which case a pause is necessary.
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 7:15
  • Without the Oxford comma, it would read: health, sciences and technology, law and economics and human and social sciences. Publisher guidelines aside, the sentence is already confusing enough with the comma in place, no need to add to it by taking it out. As to as well as, they mean rather different things. In the second case the two words are on equal footing, while in the first she is being introduced as clever in addition to being (and we probably already knew or expected she was) strong. You may be able to interchange them in some contexts but they do not mean the same thing.
    – Wlerin
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 23:26
  • And yes, the reference I quoted was discussing serial commas. It was the only section of the CMS I could find that even remotely related to the question at hand.
    – Wlerin
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 23:31
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Modern devices are:

We analyzed the responses of students studying: health, sciences & technology, law & economics, and human & social sciences.

//

We analyzed the responses of students studying: health, sciences & technology; law & economics; and human & social sciences.

(Depending on whether 'health, sciences & technology' is considered as a single grouping or two groupings).

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    Yes, what I do, when there are too many 'ands' is that the proximate ones will be twined with '&', like Humanities & Social Sciences, and Computer Science & Information Technology, etc.
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 2:24
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We analyzed the responses of students studying health, sciences & technology, law & economics and human & social sciences.

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  • While this is a valid alternative, it doesn't answer the question of "What's the rule?" Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 8:12

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