What is Correct: A Comma Before or After "And"?
As you might already be aware, there are many rules to follow when writing content in English. However, one of the trickiest for many writers is when to use a comma. In a language full of rules, the comma stands out as a punctuation mark loaded with them. The comma's usage with the word "and" is a point of contention for many. Knowing your way around an "and" comma-wise is critical to writing grammatically correct content.
What is a Comma Used for Anyway?
The main function of a comma is to serve as a pause where one would normally pause when speaking. That, however, is far too simplistic and doesn't cover the depth and breadth of this essential punctuation mark. Below are two important rules to know that will help you when using a comma before "and" and a comma after "and."
1) Commas are Used Before the Conjunction "And" to Create Compound Sentences
If you recall from our page about the different types of conjunctions, the word "and" is a conjunction that connects words, phrases, and clauses. When "and" connects two independent clauses, those clauses form a compound sentence, almost always using a comma before "and." Here are a few examples:
• I went to the grocery store.
• I purchased several different kinds of fruit.
• I went to the grocery store, and I purchased several different kinds of fruit.
• I love Peruvian food.
• I eat Peruvian food every year on my birthday.
• I love Peruvian food, and I eat it every year on my birthday.
• I traveled to Washington, D.C.
• I saw the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
• I traveled to Washington, D.C., and I saw the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
2) Using Commas Before "And" in Lists
If you've ever been involved in a heated argument about using the so-called "Oxford comma" (aka serial comma), it was likely due to a comma being used before "and" in a list. For some reason, this usage of a comma before "and" stirs much debate. The reason is that depending on the style guide you use (AP, Chicago, APA, or MLA.), the usage and placing of a comma before "and" varies significantly.
For example, let's say that you're writing about the many hidden features of the iPhone in your latest piece of content. When you list those features, you will typically use a comma after each one except for the feature that comes immediately before the word "and." Depending on the style guide you're using, that final comma is optional. Take a look:
• The iPhone has voice control, a notes scanner, a measuring app, and a share location feature.
• The iPhone has voice control, a notes scanner, a measuring app and a share location feature.
Both of these sentences are grammatically correct, although the former follows Chicago style and the latter follows AP style. In that respect, depending on the style you're using, one would technically be incorrect.
One thing to remember is that the "comma before and" rule only applies if your list has three or more items. For two, you would never use the comma. Here are a few examples:
• The house was falling apart, and in a bad part of town. (This is incorrect, as any good grammar-checking program will tell you.)
• The house was falling apart and in a bad part of town. (Correct!)
• Robert, and Rebecca were just friends. (Incorrect.)
• Robert and Rebecca were just friends. (Correct!)
• Our dog plays with bones, and with balls. (Incorrect.)
• Our dog plays with bones and with balls. (Correct!)
What About Using a Comma After "And"?
One of the easier rules to remember about using a comma is that it's rarely used after the word "and." A comma after and is simply not needed in most content writing, and, if it is, there's almost always one reason why; a nonessential phrase.
Nonessential phrases (aka parenthetical asides) have the ability to add more details to a sentence. However, to do this, they need to be set apart from the sentence using commas, and one of those commas will often be a comma after "and." Here's a fantastic example:
• I only brush my teeth once a week, and, if I'm in a really good mood, I even use toothpaste.
The nonessential phrase "if I'm in a really good mood" adds flavor and fun to the sentence but is otherwise unnecessary. However, since it needs to be set apart in the sentence, using a comma after and is essential.
A Comma Before And is Based on Your Style Guide and Consistency
The best way to remember when to use a comma is to follow your style guide and stay consistent. Most grammar experts agree that you're better off leaving in the comma before "and" than taking it out. As for the comma after and, you'll use it so little in normal content writing as to make it a moot point. And that, as they say, is that!
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