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I am writing a sentence containing a list. The first item is a long clause. I know it can be rewritten, but what is the rule for creating clarity? Should I use a comma, a semi-colon or just leave it?

Here is the sentence: The standard package includes all court forms on your behalf to progress the divorce matter and filing of documents in court.

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  • You could number the two items.
    – Xanne
    May 31, 2017 at 18:59

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Commas can be used to introduce a pause to a sentence. There are multiple reasons why a comma can be introduced where it wouldn't necessarily be required:

  • verbal effect: so the speaker can catch his breath.
  • to illustrate that a pause was taken by the speaker (e.g. in a story or transcript). This is a matter of accurately portraying the speaker's speech pattern, in cases where it is relevant.
  • for the purpose of readability: so the reader can clearly separate parts of a complex sentence.

The third option fits for your case.

Even if a comma does not make sense from a grammatical perspective, it is allowed to exist, as long as it does not unnecessarily obstruct the reader's understanding.

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  • That was my first instinct, but a lot of places clearly state that in a list of two you do not use a comma. If the first item was truncated so the sentence read 'The standard package includes all court forms and filing of documents in court' a comma would actively be wrong and one could be pulled up on it for being incorrect. So we're happy that the need for clarity overrides this rule, and that's official (as much as any grammar rule is)?
    – AJB
    May 31, 2017 at 10:12
  • @AJB: Yes. I consider the rule that "no list of two should have a comma" to mean "don't put a comma there just because it is a list of two items". In your example, you have a different justification: increasing readability of a complex sentence. You're not doing it because it's a list of two. It's just the most logical place to put the comma if you wish to introduce a pause.
    – Flater
    May 31, 2017 at 10:19

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