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I am often confused when writing a sentence with an "and" or an "or." If I want to then follow the two items/people with what they are doing, do I have to use commas to break off the second item/person so that the reader doesn't think that the action only applies to the second item/person? Which example found below looks correct? It is tricky because the sentence is long.

  1. "The school does not allow the president, or the vice president, to vote in the election."

  2. "The school does not allow the president or the vice president to vote in the election."

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Mitch, tchrist Nov 27 '16 at 22:29

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  • They are both correct.The unmarked version (and that preferred if one subscribes to the modern minimalist convention) is the one without the commas, but the one with the commas adds emphasis. Your choice. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 24 '16 at 18:11

Commas are not needed here. Typically a comma is only used before a coordinating conjunction (and, or, but, nor, etc) when it either links two independent clauses e.g

I went to the shops, and she went to the market.

or when it appears in a list as an Oxford comma e.g

We went to the bars with the strippers, JFK, and Stalin.

When writing at a sentence like this you should remove the negation and see if a comma seems correct with "and".

The schools allows the president and the vice president to vote in the election.

It is clear that this sentence is valid without the use of commas. Consequently, so is yours. All your commas achieve is making it seem as if "or the vice president" is a non-essential phrase that's being shoehorned into the middle of the sentence. You've done this validly because the sentence is still complete without the phrase "or the vice president". If you want to suggest to your readers that the fact that the vice president isn't permitted to vote in elections is merely an additional piece of information and not so directly relevant then go ahead and keep the commas. However, I'd be inclined to think it unnecessary in this context.

  • Hello, Sandwichmeister. You can't say 'This sentence clearly doesn't need a comma' without context. There could be a valid reason to stress 'or the vice president'. Dashes could be used for greater emphasis; this off-setting essentially makes 'or the vice president' a parenthetical. // There have been other examples, almost certainly duplicates, of the optional / preferred use of commas in such situations. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 24 '16 at 18:14
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    I've my comment to make it more clear what adding commas achieves and what I meant by "clearly doesn't need a comma" i.e that the sentence is sound without commas. – Sandwichmeister Nov 24 '16 at 18:19
  • Yes; in this particular context, the commas are unnecessary. But in general (eg in conversation, where you're returning to counter a false claim made sentences ago by a person present other than the one you're having the conversation with, the commas / dashes are preferable to signal the head-turn. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 24 '16 at 18:25

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