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If event A happens, event B will happen, and event C might happen.

Do I need to put a comma before "and?"

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  • 1
    No. Like most comma placements, that is a matter of style alone.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 12:07
  • 1
    From a prescriptive grammar perspective, you would need a comma because "event B will happen" and "event C might happen" are independent clauses separated by a coordinating conjunction. But if your writing will not be evaluated by a prescriptive teacher/editor/etc., it's a stylistic choice, as Robusto said.
    – Nicole
    Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 13:15
  • @Nicole, one can easily be far on the prescriptivist end of the spectrum without picking so silly a battle as insisting that any consecutive independent clauses (no matter how short), separated (or joined) by a coordinating conjunction, absolutely require a comma after said conjunction. Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 14:11
  • @BrianDonovan Of course one can; that doesn't mean one does. Have you ever met any editors?
    – Nicole
    Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 14:13
  • 1
    @Nicole, indeed I have, notably including the one that I regularly see in my shaving mirror. Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 14:25

1 Answer 1

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The question of whether you need a comma before the word and in the sentence

If event A happens, event B will happen, and event C might happen.

is entirely independent of the existence of the conditional clause, "If event A happens." The situation might be different (depending on which style guide you consulted) if the sentence were presenting three conditions in series—but it isn't. Consequently, the answer to your question rests on whether

Event B will happen, and event C might happen.

must be expressed with a comma, or whether

Event B will happen and event C might happen.

is just as acceptable (in which case the decision to include or omit the comma is a matter of personal preference).

Fortunately, major style guides show a remarkable degree of unanimity on the subject of whether the proposed comma before and in a very short compound sentence is elective. From Words into Type, third edition (1974):

The comma [separating independent clauses in a compound sentence] may be omitted if the clauses are short and closely connected in thought, especially if the connective is and; ...

From The Associated Press Stylebook and Brifing on Media Law (2002):

The comma may be dropped if two clauses with expressly stated subjects are short.

From The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition (2010):

6.28 Commas with independent clauses joined by conjunctions. When independent clauses are joined by and, but, or, so, yet, or any other conjunction, a comma usually precedes the conjunction. If the clauses are very short and closely connected, the comma may be omitted unless the clauses are part of a series.

[Relevant examples:] Electra played the guitar and Tambora sang.

Raise your right hand and repeat after me.

From The Oxford Guide to Style (2002):

5.3 Comma

...

It may be omitted when the clauses are short and closely linked:

Do as I tell you and you'll never regret it.

Dan left but Jill remained.

I will not try now yet I may in future.

All of these guides seem to permit

Event B will happen and event C might happen.

which means (in my view) that they also permit

If event A happens, event B will happen and event C might happen.

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