The Comma: Where to Use it in a Series

Almost as much as the use of the word “I” when the word “me” should be used, the grammatical mistake of omitting the comma before the conjunction in a series bothers me.  I have to admit that I make my own share of grammatical errors, but there are a few that stand out and really bug me.

Another less commonly broken rule is the use of the word “myself” where the word “I” or the word “me” should be used.  Truth be told, it does slightly amuse me to hear people misuse these words in attempt to be grammatically correct while failing miserably!

According to the Gregg Reference Manual,  a manual of style, grammar, usage, and formatting (notice the use of the comma before the word “and”), a comma is to be used before the conjunction when expressing a series in a sentence.  Over the years, the repetitive omission of this comma before the conjunction in a series has come to be accepted as correct.  I believe this was simply out of sheer exasperation over trying to argue the point.  If a child begs and whines enough, just give in to make them stop.  Where’s the integrity in that logic?

Some will argue that if the last two words go together, such as “fun and friendly”, that you would not use a comma before the “and”.  The example in question is:  “…fast, fun, and friendly.”  If, in fact, “fun and friendly” was considered a phrase in this case, then the correct way to write it would be, “…fast and fun and friendly.”  It’s true!  That looks wrong, but it is acceptable.  Personally, I don’t believe “fun and friendly” was meant to be a phrase in this case (something Target uses I think), but that’s a whole other subject!

Also a whole other subject is where to place the punctuation after the quotation mark.  If quoting a sentence, the period goes inside the quotation mark.  If quoting a word or phrase someone said, the punctuation goes outside of the quotation mark.  Again, this is off my original topic, so I’ll leave it at that.


  • Thank you for your response. I don’t believe I misread your comment about punctuation for quoted matter. I just didn’t explain myself well. I meant that I’ve never heard the rule about the placement of a comma relative to quotation marks depends on if the quoted matter is a sentence or a word or phrase. I admit that in my experience as an editor and writer, I’ve never used the Gregg Reference Manual. But every authority I have used insists that in American English, the period and comma go before the closing quotation mark, regardless of the quoted material. Here’s some examples:
    From the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation: Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes.

    Absolute Write
    Periods and commas go INSIDE the marks

    Purdue Online Writing Lab
    Put commas and periods within quotation marks, except when a parenthetical reference follows.

    … and many, many more

    I’m not arguing with Gregg, but I do believe that it is wrong, very dated or at least in the minority.


    • If we both were to argue one side only, this could go back and forth for quite some time. However, I’ve found just as many references to both “rules”. After a quick search, presented as a result, which contained:

      According to American usage (which differs from the “British style”), commas and periods go inside the closing quotation mark. Other punctuation marks (such as question marks, colons, and semicolons) go inside or outside, depending on whether they are part of the quoted material.

      Some writers and language experts argue that commas and periods, when not part of the quoted material, are more logically placed outside the closing quotation mark. Standard American usage, however, is based on the notion that placing commas and periods within the closing quotation mark causes no significant confusion or ambiguity.

      So it would seem that you say po-tay-to, and I say po-tah-to. I’m fine with leaving it at that! You continue to follow the rules for your profession, and I will continue to follow the rules for mine. The fact remains that when it comes to the serial comma and the use of punctuation with quotation marks, there are equally acceptable rules in this day and age. I appreciate your pointing out that certain professions require following one rule or the other. I will continue as I was taught.


  • The use of a serial comma is considered a style choice. The Associated Press Stylebook recommends that writers not use a serial comma unless its omission could cause confusion. As for the placement of punctuation for a word or phrase? I’ve never, ever heard the “rule” you cite, not in all my years as a professional editor. In the US, the punctuation goes inside or outside quotation marks depending on whether it is part of the quoted matter. (Exception: Colons and semicolons always go after the closing quotation mark.)


    • Thank you for your comment, Laura. I agree with the use of punctuation in regards to quotation marks. However, just because one has “never, ever” heard of something, that doesn’t mean it does not exist. In all my years as a professional office assistant, a serial comma has been used. If you can find a copy of the Gregg Reference Manual, you will find this rule there. Perhaps the AP Stylebook modified the rule to save space as they are in the business of article writing. I’m in the business of correspondence. I do realize that both “rules” are acceptable now, and I would never personally attack a person for omitting a serial comma. I’m merely point out that it does stand out to me and, yes, it irks me a bit.


    • Perhaps I misread your comment about punctuation for quoted words or phrases, or you’ve misread my original post. I wrote, “If quoting a word or phrase someone said, the punctuation goes outside of the quotation mark.” If the word or phrase I’m quoting appears at the end of a sentence, the period would be placed after the quotation mark. For example: In your comment, you used the phrase “never, ever”. (Period outside.) I apologize if I was unclear.


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