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Commas With “And”

In a Business Writing Skills class last week, a participant raised a familiar question about the use of commas with the word and. She said:

I learned the rule that you never use a comma with and. The word and takes the place of the comma.

Forget this wrong-headed so-called rule!

Not using a comma with and is like not using your car’s turn signal when you are in the turn lane. You may think the signal is unnecessary, but it reassures everyone of your intentions.

Here are 10 examples of places in which a comma and the word and belong together:

  1. Maria wrote to Mom and Dad, and Jeff wrote to Aunt Kathryn in Milwaukee. (compound sentence)
  2. The meetings take place on Monday, March 19, and Thursday, March 22. (days and dates)
  3. The cities we are considering for the conference are Bilbao, Spain, and Oporto, Portugal. (cities with countries)
  4. Why are the dates November 22, 1963, and June 6, 1968, significant in U.S. history? (month-day-year dates)
  5. When you leave the campsite, don’t leave litter, and recycle everything possible. (avoiding confusion)
  6. I agree with your remarks, Karina, and will forward them to Mohamed. (direct address)
  7. “Eating Green,” the first chapter, and “Buying Fresh,” the third, have both been edited. (restatements)
  8. I will contact Maya and, of course, Vy. (parenthetical)
  9. We must reimburse Michael, who brought the food, and Kayla, who purchased the decorations. (nonrestrictive clauses)
  10. We will cover commas, semicolons, and colons in the next lesson. (optional comma in a series)

If you know people (especially teachers) who believe it is wrong to use a comma with the word and, please forward them the link to this post. And encourage them to use their turn signals.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

3 comments on “Commas With “And””

  • Dear Lynn, thanks for another insightful entry into business writing. I am curious how you reached this conclusion that using “and,” is always OK? In your examples, you are correct – the commas help to signal your intentions to the reader. I think it’s also important to recognize that there are cases when it’s recommended not to use commas. For example, according to AP style, a comma is not to be used before the conjunction in a simple series: The flag is red, white and blue.

  • Brad, thanks for this great question. It gave me the opportunity to realize that my enthusiasm may have led me to oversimplify. I did not mean to say that a comma is ALWAYS right with “and.” I meant that a comma is not always wrong. The 10 examples are the only 10 places I could think of (although there are probably more) where a comma next to “and” is correct.

    Regarding the AP standard on omitting the serial comma, I believe it is only the journalists’ style guides that agree with AP. Are you aware of others?

  • An easy thing to remember when using a comma with and:

    If they go together you don’t use the comma – For example: …my sisters Lisa, Jannette and Angelina.

    If they don’t go together use the comma – For example: …my sisters Lisa, Jannette, Angie, and the neighbor.

    If they do and don’t then –
    …my sisters Jannette and Lisa, and her cousins Rhonda and Jo.

    Is this ok? I guess it depends on how you read it and if you’re reading it outloud. haha

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