Thursday, June 02, 2005

Commas in a series

In legal writing, we use a full set of commas for items or phrases in a series. We do not omit the comma before the conjunction.

"The court hears arguments, pleas, and requests."

Many sources on legal writing say so. In fact, it's difficult to find any source that doesn't say so:
  • "In legal writing, place a comma at the end of each item listed, including the item listed immediately before the and." Mary Barnard Ray & Jill J. Ramsfield, Legal Writing: Getting It Right and Getting It Written 86 (4th ed., West Group 2005).
  • "[I]t is a good idea to put a comma before the last item in a series . . ." Barbara Child, Drafting Legal Documents: Principles and Practices 398 (2d ed., West 1992).
  • "Although the comma before the final and in a series is sometimes described as 'optional,' legal writers should make it a habit to include it . . ." Anne Enquist & Laurel Currie Oates, Just Writing: Grammar, Punctuation, and Style for the Legal Writer 245 (2d ed., Aspen L. & Bus. 2005).
  • "Some writers treat [the serial comma] as optional . . . but the safer practice is to use it consistently." Bryan A. Garner, The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style 3-4 (West Group 2002).
  • "Use a comma to mark each separate element in a series; that is, put a comma after each item and before the conjunction." Lynn Bahrych & Marjorie Dick Rombauer, Legal Writing in a Nutshell 129 (3d ed., West 2003).
  • "When a sentence contains a series of three or more items joined with one conjunction, put commas after each item except the last." Richard C. Wydick, Plain English for Lawyers 92 (4th ed., Carolina Academic Press 1998).
  • "Place commas between all items in a series." Terri LeClercq, Expert Legal Writing 152 (U. Tex. Press 1995).
  • "Although informal and journalistic practices permit a writer to omit the comma that precedes the conjunction before the last element in a series, the better practice is to use it[.]" Elizabeth Fajans, Mary R. Falk, & Helene S. Shapo, Writing for Law Practice 156 (Found. Press 2004).
  • "In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last." William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White, The Elements of Style (4th ed., Allyn & Bacon 2000).

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