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Example:

The forest was so dense I was practically swimming through it. A dark, murky ocean of shrubs, trees, and bamboo shoots.

The forest was so dense I was practically swimming through it. A dark, murky ocean of shrubs and trees and bamboo shoots.

Is the effect different? How so?

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  • 4
    The extra "and" imitates the context of how dense the forest is. Oct 17 '14 at 3:16
  • I don't agree with Paul A. Clayton that the effect is tediousness. Quite to the contrary, the second example makes me feel pleasurably excited.
    – user5645
    Oct 17 '14 at 14:22
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I don't know how to give a quick summary of its effects. So I'll offer some terminology to aid your research.

That technique is called polysyndeton. Wikipedia has a little bit about the effects: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polysyndeton

You can also go in the other direction and remove all of the conjunctions. That is called asyndeton: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asyndeton

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Adding to Dale Emery's answer, besides the effects listed in Wikipedia, one basic effect is that of emphasizing the staggering number of things:

  • "there were apples, oranges, and bananas" is just a neutral list,
  • whereas "there were apples and oranges and bananas" emphasizes the fact that there are impressively many different fruits to choose from.

There are many common phrases that emphasize endlessness through the repetition of conjunctions:

It went on and on and on forever.

One and is just the standard end of a list, several ands are repetitive, and repetition conveys monotony and sheer volume.

So, to use your own exampes,

  • "shrubs, trees, and bamboo shoots"

    means that there were these three types of plants (and no more or nothing else of significance), and you're stating that in a neutral manner, while

  • "shrubs and trees and bamboo shoots"

    means that there was an impenetrable jungle of plants that contains the three plants and many others, and your narrator is very emotional about that fact.

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The additional "and" changes the rhythm of the list. It elongates it, which can have the perhaps paradoxical effect of increasing a sense of pace and tension. "Monotony" isn't simply a matter something being boring or tedious. Used properly, it can convey a meaning of fullness and richness. Somewhat comparable to how "said" disappears in dialog, the additional "and" in such a list disappears (precisely because of its repetition) and has the effect adding a kind of urgency. Each additional "and" builds on the previous one (even if there are only two total) and creates momentum. There is a limit to how many you can get away with before it starts getting tedious, but in the proper context two or three, perhaps even four, can be very effective in controlling pace and conveying mood.

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