Commas Help Separate Units Within a List

When three or more items are listed, use commas to separate them. For example, note the punctuation of the following sentence:

During the relocation, Alice will supervise the packing, trucking, and unpacking efforts.

It is considered optional to use the serial comma (before the word and), but it is recommended because serial commas clarify meaning—in this case, that the unpacking activities are separate from the packing and trucking activities. If you decide to use the comma in this way, be certain to do so consistently throughout your document.

It's best to use semicolons to separate units when there are commas within the units. In the following example, notice that the sentence's meaning is clearer when it is punctuated with semicolons.

It was decided that team leaders would include Amanda, East Coast, Sam, West Coast, Gloria, Mid Atlantic, and Cal, South.

It was decided that team leaders would include Amanda, East Coast; Sam, West Coast; Gloria, Mid Atlantic; and Cal, South.

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