Pausing To Punctuate: Listing Commas


I used to think I knew how to use commas (,). They are marks you put after words where you want to indicate a pause, right? Well, not exactly! Huh? How then do you use commas?

I have been made to understand that there no less than four different kinds of commas. No wonder commas are probably the punctuation mark most misused in the English language: there are so many of them! Here are the four kinds of commas:

  1. Listing comma (used in lists)
  2. Joining comma (used to join sentences)
  3. Gaping comma (used to replace words that would be repeated)
  4. Isolating comma (used set-off a soft interruptions)

In this post I will try to explain the listing comma.

The general rule is that listing commas replace the words and or or to make the sentence more elegant. For example:

He seems to live only on tobacco and alcohol and loud rock music.

This sentence will be less cumbersome when written this way.

He seems to live only on tobacco, alcohol and loud rock music

Simple, huh? But listing commas are also used where we encounter a list of phrases. For example

You may be served a notice of termination by registered post, by courier service, by email or by fax.

Again, not so difficult, right? However, listing commas are also used when we see a list of complete sentences. Take a look at the following example

I played guitar, Jimmy played bass, Amir played the drums and Jane played all of us.

There are two things to note:

  1. There is no white space before the comma
  2. There is no comma before and or or

However, we may be required to insert a comma before an and whenever doing so would make the meaning clearer. Check this one out

I don’t like listening to Lobo, Prince, and Donny and Marie.

By slapping the comma after Prince we make it clear that it is Donny and Marie who work as a team: not Prince and Donny.

Hope this has been useful to you. In subsequent postings I will try to share with you what I know about joining commas.

Stay tuned.


34 thoughts on “Pausing To Punctuate: Listing Commas

  1. Hey MB,

    This is a good posting. Never knew about the last example. Will stay tune…



    Thank you. Hope it was useful to you.

  2. my life has been a series of commas…thanks for making it more complicated.

    Robina Xang

    Always a pleasure to oblige ma’am 😉

  3. Great read – Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! by Lynne Truss


    Story of my life that: Eats, shoots and leaves 🙂

  4. Mat

    When Jane played were there any commas?

    I think I better stick to my one liners. Or two. The last time I veered off, it led to a cul de sac.

    Off to my lunch appointment. Black Monday to day. Lert’s have more humour Mat.

    Cherrio amigo.

    Dry Humour

    When she played us, it was consecutively: not simultaneously 🙂 Does that call for commas? Or fullstops?

    I’m off to get some humour back in me. Wish me luck, my friend.

  5. As I wrote before: I found it beyond me to slay the dragon of syntax, punctuation and grammar.


    What you need is a knight in shining armour to help you do the slaying. Muses are useless for this task: they are peaceful creatures who abhor confrontation.

    Better still, get a 2-in-1 deal: A muse who is also a knight in shining armour.

  6. dear sir,
    it is surprising what one can learn when reading ur blog. u misplaced ur humour? shall we organise a treasure hunt and search for it? 🙂


    What a brilliant idea! Days without humour are not much fun.

  7. This is very educational, thank you. I’ve just put a comma between ‘educational’ and ‘thank you,’ and I hope it does not against an excellent writing rule. Oh, I’ve noticed one more comma after ‘thank you.’ And after ‘oh.’

    I love commas.

    Pok Deng

    I am thinking maybe a full stop would be better after educational. Then again, what do I know? 🙂

    And maybe the comma after thank you should come after the closed inverted comma (’); in which case it becomes a joining comma.

    But I think the comma after oh should be OK.

    Then again, I’m just an amateur when it comes to these things.

    Good to see you again, Pok Deng

  8. Mat-san,

    I`m into English a lot,it`s the lingua franca at home, and I even dream in the language actually.

    However, grammatical proficiency should be
    acquired during the language`s foundation building stage,and at this ripe age, it`s more of appreciating the real beauty of the language, in prose or poetry, or through capturing the nuances of true wit and dry humour,best epitomised by those whose rightful place are in the hallowed corridors of Westminster,or endowed with the the grey matter to be able to churn out the script of “Yes, Minister” literally at will.

    Upon closer inspection, Mat-san, that piece-de-resistance in your article…the “Jane” part… grammatically, shouldn`t it be,”..and we all played Jane” i/o “…and Jane played all of us”?
    This will follow perfectly the order listed out in that sentence, where the subjects(“we” or “us”) are “I”, “Jimmy” and “Amir” and the objects are the guitar, the bass and the drums. Hence,a subject must precede an object, and “we” therefore, must precede “Jane”(the object), instead of the other way around.Plus(if my assumption is correct), Jane is the instrument being played by all of you(Really?)

    But, actually, why need we care about all these?
    Life`s too short,Mat-san, and let`s throw grammar etc to the wind,shall we?


    Aha! But we were Jane’s instruments; not the other way round. At least, that was how it felt 🙂

    Yeah! Life’s too short. Pause to Punctuate is actually my online notebook to punctuation: i keep losing my physical notebooks.

    If even one other soul finds it useful,then all of it would not have been wasted.

    Good to hear from you again, my friend.

  9. Mat B

    I take to punctuations, commas and the like like duck to water. I punctuate everywhere and anywhere, right or wrong. I use commas with abandon. I love this half-comma thingy; don’t know what they are called and give a toot either. I think I am a purist’s nightmare, not that I care.

    PS: Why did I detect some ‘hesitation’ on that Jepun chap’s piece? Is he choking on something?

    PS: Mr Higashi, sir,

    Your ‘I’ is simply orgasmic (and you have to spoil it in the second instance…. sighh..)

    Bekas Wartawan

    I suspect you are nobody’s nightmare. How could you be? You’re just too nice a person.

    Yes, ma’am! One can get too carried away adhering to the rules of punctuation.

  10. Mat

    Call me one-track minded. But I like the word orgasmic.

    Jane doing you all consecutively. There’s a hyphen there. Possibly a dot dot, too. Or maybe Morse-code like.

    If simultaneously, it is a punctuation mark. A big, red one. And on-the-spot size comparison would be hilarious.

    No offence intended my friend. It’s the morning cheering up.


    So do I! I like orgasmic, too.

    No. I would not have been able to stand-up (pun intended) to an on-the-spot size comparison. As a guitarist, I would have had to make capital of my strong, skillful fingers!

    No offence taken,my friend!

  11. Mat-san,

    Kindly allow me.. a brief response.

    Dear Bekas Wartawan,

    My apologies.The first posting ,that orgasmic one,emanated from a careless brush of the forefinger on the “submit” prompt.

    “Orgasmic”?Now, that brings back fond memories!

    Au revoir!

  12. Hi Matt,

    Sorry for my short attention span, re: commas.

    Irrelevant to apek now lah. However your mentioned of Marie Osmond ignited some fond memories.

    As a ‘pseudo’ guitarist, I too would have had to make capital of my strong, skillful fingers, playing her number 1 hit; “I’m a little bit country & I’m a little bit rock ‘n’ roll”.

    Higashi-san, if u wish to revive your ‘fond memories’; try the new “Nasal Delivery Technology”. Very popular Down Under.

    It’ll bring back the old Kamikaze in you! the SUN will rise again for u. Sorry No offends.



    Frankly, how to use the comma is quite irrelevant to most of us, too – unless we work as editors or proof-readers.

    So lets just have fun, Tommy.

  13. Keep writing the funny stuff, bro; funny stuff keep some of us sane.


    I’ll keep the funny stuff coming as best I can, bro.

    Had a peep at your blog; I feel for you, bro. If its any consolation, do know I was there once (or twice), too. Sometimes deliverance comes in very unexpected ways; and often, at unexpected times. But one thing is certain: it always comes!

    Hang in there, bro.

  14. Dak Ah Bau,

    tu Rimau Sarkas!

    lu ni mamak,tulis atas’ kertas belacan’ pun kami baca.
    Which remind me of the late Pram Modeya Anantantor,when he was sentence to Bora Island for detention with trail .Readind material was scare and difficult to smuggle in the cell.Thus what ever thing he could turn into readin and writing he would improvised it.With such little scare resouces come a moving novel’Earth of ManKind translkated from Bumi Manusia and Keluarga Gerilya.Off course it was smuggle out to be publish.
    Thus,you can do it mamak.and I always has hope in you.

    Pak Tuo


  15. Mat

    To me commas, quotation marks etc are not that important. So long as you get the point. And the point can sometimes be very blunt.

    Shakespeare, Chaucer, Charles Dickens are difficult to read. Not many commas and very long. Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm had so many volumes. Of course he was long winded, every page was like addressing Parliament those war years.

    And Tun Seri Lanang’s Sejarah Melayu had no full stops. Only the word Maka to denote stops.

    But you have to have commas my friend. You do convey the intimate feelings, the particular experiences, the nooks and corners of your Montblanc, your guitar, even your non-blotching paper.

    Veering off from my usual one or two liners? Must be the rain this morning.


    Dry Humuour

    How right you are indeed! I shall take your advice to heart, learn the proper usage, but at the same time, try not to be too much of a stickler on these matters.

    Even when you veer away from your usual one- (or two-) liners, you are remarkably eloquent – even more so, perhaps. Maybe it should rain more often.

  16. hi mat,

    as an unabashed grammarphobe, i love this entry!

    i’m sure, like me, you too believe that a bit of comma sense prevents one from being misunderstood . that innocuous little thing is really rather useful.

    take a look at these sentences, frinstance:

    – mat bangkai said mekyam loved the commas.
    – mat bangkai, said mekyam, loved the commas.

    see? with just two commas, mat b and mekyam switched places WITHOUT switching places.

    neat eh? how not to love the little thing. 🙂

    p.s. btw, this entry reminded me of a poem by kalli dakos entitled “call the periods/call the commas”.

    let me type it here for all to enjoy…

    Call the Periods
    Call the Commas

    By Kalli Dakos

    Call the doctors Call the nurses Give me a breath of air I’ve been reading all your stories but the periods aren’t there Call the policemen Call the traffic guards Give me a STOP sign quick Your sentences are running when they need a walking stick Call the commas Call the question marks Give me a single clue Tell me where to breathe with a punctuation mark or two

    to get the best effect, of course you have to recite it aloud – and all in one breath! 😉


    That thing with the Bangkai and Mek Yam example is really clever, ma’am. Without having to change the spatial relationship between the words, the isolating commas allowed Bangkai and Mek Yam to switch places. Brainy stuff, ma’am!

    I couldn’t finish the poem in one breath: two-pack-a-day guys run out of breath very quickly

  17. and…so many things to say about one small comma. cant imagine what a hyphen can do to your blog bangkai!
    and about Jane..hehehehe….i like dat ifs, no buts, no ands about it…(well..with a comma or two sumwhere in between!)


    After the different kinds of commas, I thought I’d do colons and semi-colons.

    But now, just for you, I will do hyphens instead.

  18. dear sir,
    i guess u have found u missing sense of humour.
    if not , shall i proceed to organise the aforementioned treasure hunt? 🙂


    Looks like you may not have to mount the treasure hunt after all.

    All is well. With a little coaxing, my sense of humour may well ride again.

  19. I was going to write something prolific, but got distracted somewhat by the picture of THOSE fingers, goshness! So perfectly shaped. And the way the pen cradles so snugly in the nook between the thumb and forefinger…. uummmm

    Oh yes, as I was going to say: This post has been most useful. It has made me more aware of pausing for my commas.


    Glad to know the post was of some benefit to you.

    Yeah, I guess the part about the commas was quite OK, too, eh? 😉

  20. Mat

    Can’t resist commenting on the uummmm sound accompanying the excellent narrative up there.

    It conveys a certain exhilaration only vintage chataneuf de pape, soft lights, light music and gentle movements can produce. In the cool comfort of the evening. Then humming Tender Is The Night. (Oops, someone has used it as a blog heading I think. No offence intended on anyone).

    And the way you commented was fantastic, too, my friend.

    It’s a matter of interpretation ha, Mat? Like Rosie. Keeps the mind healthy. Or boringly lumpy.


    Dry Humour

    Yes, sir. It’s all about interpretation. And unlike in courts of law, there are no Golden Rules!

  21. when ur not too sure on what to do next,where to go next but you still believe that you are not anywhere near the end , a comma comes in handy.when things get too complicated and you need complex and detailed perspectives to guide you to the desired ending,then a comma may not be your best weapon.
    A tequila and a chocolate mint does the job better.


    Its cool when you get philosophical.

    And yes, the tequila solution almost always does the trick.

  22. Interpretation is the key to lie bro;)

    dak ah bau

    It is also the key to misdirected understanding: which hopefully lets us get away with our lies 🙂

  23. What about the “Oxford comma?” Always put it before the “and.”
    “I like commas, quotation marks, and I like Phishneslo too!”

    You write: “I played guitar, Jimmy played bass, Amir played the drums and Jane played all of us.”
    I write: “I played guitar, Jimmy played bass, Amir played the drums, and Jane played all of us.”
    Because otherwise, Amir would have been playing the drums whilst Jane was playing all of us… And that just wouldn’t make sense at all.

    Oxford Comma. Vampire Weekend. Look it up.

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