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I am writing in British English so do not use a comma before 'and' in a list.

E.g The basket had oranges, apples and bananas. (In American English, there would be a comma before 'and')

However, I need to use certain colon lists the members of which are either a mix of phrases and single-word items or only phrases.

Here is an example:

Signs of imbalance: inability to think clearly, acting out of rage, and impatience.

repeated differently

Signs of imbalance: inability to think clearly, impatience, and acting out of rage.

In cases such as below, I am using a comma before 'and' a) the list members are phrases(especially the last item) and not single-word items. b) the list members are a mix of phrases and single-word items. c) In general if I feel the list is somewhat complex and even if the last item is a single word.

I would like to know whether even for single item simple lists, I should use a comma before 'and' to maintain consistency OR whether I should use comma wherever I deem appropriate OR should I avoid comma even for the complex lists. I have also used phrases like 'and so on' but have not used a comma before them.

I request some clarity on the above.

Thanks

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  • 1
    Serial comma – Ángel Dec 7 '20 at 23:28
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    A comma before using "and" in a list is called an Oxford Comma. Not sure on colon lists. Normally for those I bullet point which remove the need for "And" leading the final entry. Also, I use Oxford Commas, so can't help beyond giving you the name and offering a work around if it can fit your work. – hszmv Dec 8 '20 at 12:13
  • In US, I personally hardly ever see "Oxford comma" in popular fiction and articles, but it is somewhat common in academic writing. – Alexander Dec 9 '20 at 19:38
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First of all, this isn't a matter of US vs British usage. The "serial comma" is also known as the "oxford comma" from it being a standard at Oxford University, which is not exactly part of the uS. Nor do all US writers use the serial comma. The most that can be said is thsat it is more common in US usage.

Ther is no rule specifying how you need to write to have consistency on this issue. Unl;ess a publisher is going to impose a stylebook on yu, you may choose your own.

There are cases where omitting the comma leads to ambiguity. For example:

I want to thank President Obama, Prime Minister Thatcher, my father and mother for inspiration. (Is the spark thanking four people, or two?)

You can makw for yourself a rule to use the serial comma in complex cases but not simple ones. I see nothing wrong with that. Or you can decide for this work to always use it to avoid confusion, even if writing primarily in BrE. I see nothing wrong with that either.

English doesn't have that kind of absolute rules.

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