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this is a question in the context of a novel, about the last/terminal comma after a long list that transitions into a verb and object. When do you put a comma after the last word/thing in a long list followed by a verb and object? Does the last thing/word in a list have a comma after it, when the following verb applies to everything in the list? …whereas the last thing/word in the list does not have a comma after it, when the following verb just applies to the last thing in the list? Is this true? If not, then what is the rule? Does the comma only indicate a pause? So is it arbitrary/personal preference of where you want a pause in the text? For example:

  1. …with his head facing forward, back hunched over, and hips swiveled upwards, so that the back of his knees on his shoulders…

  2. …with his head facing forward, back hunched over, and hips swiveled upwards so that the back of his knees rest on his shoulders…

  3. Salmon, barracuda, tarpon, seals, whales, goldfish, and sharks, swim regularly.

  4. Salmon, barracuda, tarpon, seals, whales, goldfish, and sharks swim regularly.

Are these two sentences and their alternatives interchangeable, or is there a difference implied by the final comma? Or is the only difference that the last comma in question #1 and #3 indicates a pause after upwards and sharks? Thank you.

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    The examples are not alike enough. I'm feeling 1 and 4. Jun 7 at 2:30

2 Answers 2

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I believe questions 1 and 3 are the preferable form. Let's see if I can articulate my reasoning. In questions 2 and 4, the final comma appears to completely separate the clause that follows, from the other things/conditions etc in the list. The object contained within that clause then seems to carry a heavier weight in relation to the items in the list. In contrast, in examples 1 and 3, the items listed appear to all have the same importance in relation to the verb that follows the final comma.

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    Please note that even though this answer has been accepted, it is not correct. Sentence 3 includes a comma between the complete subject and complete predicate, which is almost always considered an error. Jun 7 at 4:50
  • @MarcInManhattan Oh okay, that is helpful. Thank you to you both.
    – Danny D.
    Jun 12 at 2:53
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All are OK but numbers 1 and 3 are my choices. In Warner's English Grammar the last comma of a list is optional. As a matter of taste and usage I have always left it off, probably since that is the usage I see the most.

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