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Self-Editing Tips: The Serial Comma

antique black typewriter with tan keys

When editing books, the serial comma is king.

(It is also called by another snooty-sounding name: the Oxford comma. But since we are all down-to-earth people here, we’re calling it the “serial comma” in this post.)

What is the serial comma?

This type of comma is used in lists before “and” or “or.”

Here’s an example:

Reggie bought vanilla, cherry, and chocolate ice cream.

(The comma that goes after “cherry” and before “and” is the serial comma.)

Why use the serial comma?

It helps you avoid awkward (and sometimes hilarious) wording, such as in this sentence:

During his trip, the diplomat met with the president, an enormous gorilla and a unitard enthusiast.

Without a serial comma after “gorilla” and before “and,” it could read like the president was a gorilla who likes unitards. The serial comma makes sure the items in your list stay separate.

Editing and Serial Commas

If you include the serial comma in your manuscript, your editor will love you (and perhaps charge you less to edit your book). It is incredibly time consuming to seek where the serial comma is missing and add it. If you already have it where it’s supposed to go, it will take your editor less time to edit your book, which is good for both of you.

#oxfordcomma #serialcomma #punctuation #selfediting #copyediting #lists

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