Always Put a Comma Before the “and” in the List, No Matter What Your Old Grammar Teacher Said

Do you go shopping for “muffins, vanilla and chocolate” or “muffins, vanilla and chocolate”? There is a long-standing debate about whether or not to include the last comma in the list. Well, forget it well. The comma clarifies the situation, and a recent lawsuit proves it.

The lawsuit concerned a Maine law that said workers were not entitled to overtime pay if their job was to “canning, processing, canning, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packaging for shipping or distribution” of certain foods. Truck drivers have filed a lawsuit claiming they deserve overtime because their job is distribution. They are not in the business of “packaging for shipping or distribution.” The court agreed: if the state wanted the “distribution” to be a separate item on the list, they should have used a damn comma.

The law was written in accordance with the government’s style guide , which says that the comma before the “and” can be omitted (known to grammarians as the Oxford comma ) simply because people sometimes do it. But the court is right: if you want to clearly identify the items on your list, consider the commas carefully.

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