How to use commas

Following up on the previous post, here’s more on how to use commas in English.

There are 4 different kinds of comma. I will look at each in a separate post.

1. Listing comma

2. Joining comma

3. Gapping comma

4. Bracketing comma

 

The listing comma

The listing comma is used in place of “and” or “or” in lists of items.

In place of “and”:

The company must verify whether the contractors have the personnel, knowledge, experience, licences and financial security required to undertake the works.

i.e.: The company must verify whether the contractors have the personnel and knowledge and experience and licences and financial security required to undertake the works.

In place of “or”:

You can get to the airport by train, bus or taxi.

i.e.: You can get to the airport by train or bus or taxi.

It is common American style to put a comma before the “and” or the “or” that comes before the last item in the list:

personnel, knowledge, experience, licences, and financial security required to undertake the works.

You can get to the airport by train, bus, or taxi.

This is called the Oxford or serial comma.

In British English we do not usually use the Oxford comma. But it is useful to make your meaning clear in sentences where there are other “ands” nearby, like in these examples:

The retailers include H&M, C&A, Peek and Cloppenburg, and Marks and Spencer.

The firm focuses on such sectors as financial services, energy, infrastructure, real estate and construction, consumer goods, telecommunication, media and new technologies, and pharmaceuticals.

 

The listing comma is also used to separate adjectives.

Despite being CEO, he drives a rusty, old, yellow Volkswagen.

You should use a comma when the adjectives in your list can be separated by “and” (rusty and old and yellow).

Now look at this example:

The agreement is a standard Hungarian contract.

Why is there no comma between “standard” and “Hungarian”?

Because you cannot say “standard and Hungarian contract”. The word “standard” modifies “Hungarian contract” and not just “contract”. So the rule is – you should not use a comma when the adjectives cannot be separated by “and”.

Another example:

Due to the recent economic instability clients are facing problems with budgeting for legal costs. (NOT recent and economic)

More examples:

prior written consent
new financial director
German white wine
mature cheddar cheese

 

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