using commas in a series

Another frequent use of the comma is to separate items in a series of actions or list of items.This is usually referred to as commas in a series-for example: he picked Sarah, Mick, Elaine, Alan, Freddie and Jane

When using commas in a series, the convention is that you only say/write ‘and’ just before the final word in the sequence. This introduces a difference between US punctuation and British and Australian punctuation. In the US, a comma is used before ‘and’. There is no comma used before the final and in British English. As` I live in Australia, I employ this style throughout my website. Of course, when editing, I use the punctuation style appropriate to where the work will be published.

US Punctuation:

I bought pears, apples, grapes, peaches, and oranges.

British Punctuation:

I bought pears, apples, grapes, peaches and oranges.

These can be extended to become phrases and the comma still applies.

Eg: I bought pears from the roadside stall, apples from my aunt, grapes from Tescos, peaches from Coles and oranges from Woolworths.

US punctuation of commas  would see a comma before and in a series between ‘Coles and oranges’.


The same pattern is followed for commas between actions in a series:

I walked, jumped, climbed and staggered all around Europe.

I walked through green fields, jumped over streams, climbed to scenic lookouts and staggered in and out of bars all around Europe.


There are times when we mix commas and semicolons to avoid any possible confusion.


Take the following messy statement:

My friends visited Paris, France, Rome, Italy, London, England, and Athens, Greece.

It makes it look as though eight places were visited rather than four when you put so many commas in a series .

By separating the main areas with semicolons, the sentence becomes clearer.

My friends visited Paris, France; Rome, Italy; London, England; and Athens, Greece.

It is also sensible to use a combination of commas and semicolons where there are lengthy segments within a sentence.

For example:

Within a very few years, the colony of NSW comprised three principal groups: convicts, both men and women, who had been gathered from England and Ireland on a range of crimes from petty theft of a handkerchief to political insurrection; guards, soldiers, and administrators who were required to control the convicts and regulate the new settlement; and the last to arrive, free settlers who thought the new colony, with gifts of land as incentives, might offer opportunities for a new life.