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The specific sentence is "The man moved from Paris to London to New York." Would I separate the names of cities with commas?

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  • Probably not. It's something of a personal choice issue, though.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 14, 2021 at 18:56
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    But note, if you interrupt any of them with subordinate clauses, it's probably best to use all the commas once you've got one: "He moved from Paris, his birthplace, to London, to New York." (But given "He moved from Paris to London, where he stayed for a month, to New York," I still don't feel a dire need for a comma after Paris. But if he added one more destination: "... from Paris to London, where he stayed a month, to New York, to Montana," then I'd be inclined to keep using them once I've started. So I guess I ought to offer one to Paris to be consistent.) Oct 14, 2021 at 19:51
  • Commas aren't the typographical equivalent of roasted sesame seeds, that you sprinkle over your writing to make it look more learned. I'd omit the lot. Oct 14, 2021 at 21:03
  • Discover our 10-day itinerary to travelling from London to Paris to Amsterdam by train (The Trainline, a UK rail travel site) Oct 14, 2021 at 21:55
  • Duplicate of How to punctuate " from to to to" ?
    – jsw29
    Dec 15, 2021 at 17:08

3 Answers 3

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The insertion of commas, such as like this

The man moved from Paris, to London, to New York.

has a big impact on the rhythm of the sentence. Even in prose this may be an effect which serves an author's purposes better (or worse) than the rhythm of the uncomma-ed version.

To my reading, and I'm not really going to argue with anyone who reads things differently, the use of commas suggests a short stop in each city before moving to the next; the absence of commas is more suggestive of a single fluid movement.

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  • No, no, no, no, no. I can't disagree with you here. Dec 14, 2021 at 12:37
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No, commas do not belong in this sentence. The use of the word "to" precludes the use of commas.

For more information about commas, read Commas (8 Basic Uses)

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  • What do you think of HPMark's suggestions? Dec 14, 2021 at 12:36
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I'm curious about the rationale for adding a comma immediately after "from Paris" in the example sentence. Assuming, for a moment, that there were no third point in the series of named cities, I can't imagine that anyone would argue strenuously for

"The man moved from Paris, to London."

as being superior to (or even as good as)

"The man moved from Paris to London."

We're talking about a move from X to Y, not a move from X, followed by an unexplained pause, followed by a move to Y. But if there is no obvious rationale for the comma after "Paris" in this shorter sentence, what is the justification for introducing one retroactively when "to New York" is added to the itinerary? Does the writer's anticipation of the yet-to-be-named third city that will appear later in the sentence justify pausing after the first city?

On the other hand, omitting the comma after "from Paris" but retaining the one after "to London" causes the latter comma to stick out quite noticeably:

The man moved from Paris to London, to New York."

It seems to me that emphasizing the pause after "London" in this sentence makes the sense of the sentence more ambiguous that it would be if there were no commas at all.

In his answer, High Performance Marks notes that "the absence of commas is more suggestive of a single fluid movement" [than the version broken up with commas is], and he is certainly correct about that. The classic comma-less "X to Y to Z" wording in U.S. English refers to the movement of a baseball in the course of a double play:

From Tinker to Evers to Chance

That is, the baseball moves fluidly from shortstop Joe Tinker to second baseman Johnny Evers to first baseman Frank Chance, gliding from one player to the next and never coming to rest throughout the series of exchanges until it nestles in the first baseman's glove. So I can see why, if one were writing about a person who lived in Paris for five years and then moved to London and lived there for 18 months and then moved to New York, one might not be inclined to describe the action as if the person were completing a double play. But is the solution to add commas after each of the first two cities to force readers to pause briefly at each one? I don't think so.

If I wanted to convey the idea that the traveler wasn't simply engaged in a whirlwind series of moves from city X to city Y to city Z, I would use a different construction than "from X to Y to Z." I have already suggested that adding a comma after "from X" doesn't make a lot of sense syntactically, since the conceptual base of the first part of the sentence is "from X to Y," not simply "from X [pause]." So I would recommend omitting that comma and instead focusing on how to suggest a bit of lingering at stop Y before the move to stop Z commenced. The simplest way to do this would be to prolong the transition from London to New York with a simple "and then":

"The man moved from Paris to London and then to New York."

Alternatively, you could introduce a longer descriptive pause:

"The man moved from Paris to London and then, a couple of years later, to New York."

Or you could impose a major break between the two moves:

"The man moved from Paris to London, and then, some years later, he moved to New York."

There are myriad ways to describe a progression from X to Y to Z, depending on the sense of movement that you want the sentence to have. In my view, it is unwise to try to force the sense that you want to convey on a wording that is inherently ill suited to the purpose by using punctuation to artificially hinder the sentence's natural flow.

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