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I have been wondering whether we ought to use commas to separate repetitive conjunctions in English. In German, we don't; in Russian, we usually do. Could you help me figure it out; or, in other words, which are the correct sentences?

P.S. I couldn't find an answer anywhere, even though I did try hard.

1.1. My cat slept in the tree house, and in the manor, and in the villa, and in the woods.

1.2. My cat slept in the tree house and in the manor and in the villa and in the woods.

2.1. I ate the carrots, and the soup, and the mutton.

2.2. I ate the carrots and the soup and the mutton.

3.1. I was neither bored, nor jaded, nor exhausted, nor exasperated, nor peeved.

3.2. was neither bored nor jaded nor exhausted nor exasperated nor peeved.

4.1. You can eat the lamb, or the poultry, or the mackerel.

4.2. You can eat the lamb or the poultry or the mackerel.

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    I think most people would not repeat and or or. "I ate the carrots, the soup and the mutton." Whether or not you need a comma after soup is debatable - look up Oxford comma. Sep 24, 2023 at 8:23
  • The usage is "<expression1>, <expresion2> and <expression3>" with mutualization of the preposition (e.g."in") what gives " My cat slept in the tree house, the manor, the villa and the woods. In 2.1 and 2.2, remove the "the" (I ate carrots, soup and mutton).
    – Graffito
    Sep 24, 2023 at 8:39
  • But if I do have a few prepositions, do I separate them with a comma? Example: I have and a cat(,) and a dog. Sep 24, 2023 at 8:54
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    My sense is that there's no firm rule, and you'd want to consider whether it's ambiguous, and whether you've already used a lot of other commas (overusing commas can be tiresome or confusing.) Also consider why you're repeating "or" - if you're indicating uncertainty or trying to be repetitive to give a dignified rhetorical effect.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 24, 2023 at 11:49
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    'The time has come,' the Walrus said, 'To talk of many things: Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax — Of cabbages — and kings —'
    – TimR
    Sep 24, 2023 at 12:17

1 Answer 1

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Your examples—all correct—display the rhetorical device of polysyndeton:

a stylistic device in which several coordinating conjunctions are used in succession in order to achieve an artistic effect
Source: Literary Devices

Polysyndeton is used to create rhythm, and commas are invited to or excluded from the composition depending on the desired effect—say, an exhaustive tumble vs. a deliberate pile up.

Here are some examples of polysyndeton, with and without commas:

It was four o’clock in the afternoon and the kitchen was square and gray and quiet.
—Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers.
—U.S. Postal Service unofficial motto

There were frowzy fields, and cow-houses, and dunghills, and dustheaps, and ditches, and gardens, and summer-houses, and carpet-beating grounds, at the very door of the Railway.
—Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son

If there be cords, or knives
Poison, or fire, or suffocating streams,
I’ll not endure it
—Shakespeare, Othello

You’ll need context and your ear to decide whether or not you want commas. Can you sense a difference here?

My cat slept in the tree house, and in the manor, and in the villa, and in the woods. And he would sleep in my bed if I let him.

My cat slept in the tree house and in the manor and in the villa and in the woods. And he was still tired in the morning.

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