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Within a user manual, I need to convey the maximum time period allowed as "365 days 23 hours 59 minutes 59 seconds" - are commas expected between each component? Is the word "and" expected before the last component regardless of the time period name?

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    Are you following any particular style guides or internal style sheets? Your answer may be in those. – Neil Fein Oct 18 '12 at 17:28
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I would use commas between each component, and use "and" only if the last component is seconds. I learned way back in intermediate school that "and" is only used before fractions (so 10,247 is said "ten thousand, two hundred forty-seven" but 10 7/8 is said "ten and seven-eighths"). I would call seconds the smallest "lay person" time interval — if you're getting into fractions of a second, you've moved beyond regular timekeeping and are now talking science, so it would be formatted differently.

So using your example:

The maximum time period allowed is 365 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds, so any longer than that is a problem.

BUT if your time were shorter, it would be written:

The maximum time period allowed is 365 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, so any longer than that is a problem.

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    Not sure about your last sentence. I understand your math approach (fraction), but shouldn't here the linguistic approach be considered? If you see it as an enumeration than an "and" before the last item is the standard way to do it (so not mandatory). Besides that I will never get used to the English habit putting commas before "and" and "or". Even we do not do that (at least not in enumerations). – John Smithers Oct 18 '12 at 15:13
  • I admit it does sound a little odd, but it also sounds odd to say "ten thousand, two hundred forty-seven" rather than "ten thousand, two hundred and forty-seven." In math, the "and" is a signifier meaning "fraction," so despite the linguistics, I'm sticking with that precedent. – Lauren Ipsum Oct 18 '12 at 23:54
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    And don't you knock my Oxford comma, dammit. I will fight to the death for the comma before "and." :) – Lauren Ipsum Oct 18 '12 at 23:55
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I couldn't find explicit guidance in either the Chicago Manual of Style or the Microsoft Style Guide, but what I have observed (and would write naturally) is with commas:

The maximum time period allowed is 365 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds.

You might be tempted to write the time in ISO notation (23:59:59), but this is usually used to indicate a point in time, not a duration.

You could also cast it as a limit instead of a duration:

The time period must be less than 366 days.

I sometimes find that the solution to a messy precision problem is to attack it from the other end -- what's the first value you can't use?

  • Maybe I am odd here, but I feel off without saying "... and 59 seconds." That is just how I naturally read things like that as you are basically listing off elements of time. – ggiaquin16 Jul 12 '17 at 15:36
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    @ggiaquin I think you're right, and have edited. Thanks. – Monica Cellio Jul 12 '17 at 15:37
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You can also use the convention that time periods can be written as digits, like this:

365 days plus 23:59:59 (hrs:min:sec)

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