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I didn't want to use too many commas so I wanted to know if this sentence was grammatically correct.

Sure, they don’t have true relationships and lack families, but they have jobs and friends and a purpose in life.

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  • What so-called rule of grammar has your research suggested that this sentence would somehow be in violation of?
    – tchrist
    Sep 4, 2016 at 19:05
  • @tchrist I'm told a lot that I use too many commas so I'm wary of doing it.
    – user194745
    Sep 4, 2016 at 19:09
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    Polysyndeton is a common rhetorical device, and its use is perfectly acceptable without commas. Its multiple conjunctions (in your case, ands) call attention to themselves and therefore add the effect of persistence or emphasis or intensity to their other effect: multiplicity. Sep 4, 2016 at 19:46
  • When I was at school in the 1960s I was taught that the commas in a list were simplifying replacements for multiple conjunctions, so using multiple 'ands' is just going back to basics. If you overdo it, though, it gets very clumsy.
    – BoldBen
    Sep 4, 2016 at 19:56
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    @k1eran Polysyndeton has appeared here before -- more mentions if you search for the term.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 4, 2016 at 20:18

1 Answer 1

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Unless you are not grammatical in your comma placement (put them where they shouldn't ever be), there is really no concrete rule that you have too many commas.

I would say there is nothing wrong with the sentence you presented. I've written similar sentences before too.

As another user commented, this is actually an intentional literary device known as polysyndeton. Polysyndeton is used to stress the continuing nature of an action or of repetition and can express monotony.

If it bothers you or if you don't intend your sentence to use a polysyndeton structure, you can separate it into two sentences or use a semicolon.

Sure, they don’t have true relationships and lack families. But/yet/however they have jobs and friends and a purpose in life.

Sure, they don’t have true relationships and lack families; they still have jobs and friends and a purpose in life though.

Or even...

  • If you like the Oxford comma

Sure, they don’t have true relationships and lack families, but they have jobs, friends, and a purpose in life.

  • If you prefer a journalistic style

Sure, they don’t have true relationships and lack families, but they have jobs, friends and a purpose in life.

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  • If you want a sentence to be read more slowly and require focus and thought, add more commas. If you want a sentence to be skimmed over easily, go lighter on the commas. I'm afraid I regard this as terrible advice. Style manuals may disagree on the particulars, but the basic aim of punctuation is aid the reader in parsing text correctly, not to provide typographic speed bumps. Writers do this all the time What writers? Should Joyce have put more commas in Molly Bloom's soliloquy?
    – deadrat
    Sep 4, 2016 at 20:12
  • Your example is fine and please consider what happened when a pub called “The Cock and Bull” employed a sign-writer with a trembling hand, who failed to line up his lettering properly. The gaps between “Cock” and “and” and “and” and “Bull” were not the same size. So “and” is a lot more versatile than might be thought and still, your example is fine. Sep 18, 2016 at 19:41

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