October 2016

Word Smarts
(Ouch! Did I use that word the wrong way again?)

All of the following words are synonyms for aggressive or combative. Can you find the one that doesn’t fit that definition? (Find the answer at the bottom of this newsletter.)


(Yes, I've been reading too much news lately.)

Whether to Use a Comma Before “and”
—a question of style

Sheila brought apples, bread, cheese and chocolate to the picnic.
Sheila brought apples, bread, cheese, and chocolate to the picnic.

Which of these sentences is correct? Do you need a comma before “and”? The short answer is that either way is fine, just choose one and stick with it throughout your document or website. If you want to know more, read on.


When you have a list of items, clauses or sentences that connect with “and,” you can use the serial comma — or not. It depends on your writing style. Of course, good grammar and clear punctuation do matter in your professional writing, but there is a difference between rules and style. Writing style isn’t exactly like fashion, where certain looks are trendy and others are “so yesterday.” It’s more like using tasteful accessories that pull your look together. A thrown-together outfit might be stunning at a late-night club, but when it comes to your professional image in writing, you should decide on a style and stick to it.

Writers and editors refer to one or more well-established style guides, such as the Associated Press Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, or the Oxford University Style Manual. And, when it comes to the serial comma, the style guides don’t all agree.

Most style guides recommend using the serial comma. The purpose of the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma) is to avoid confusion, or improve clarity. And if you develop the habit of always using a comma, it keeps punctuation decisions simple.

The AP Stylebook, however, gives the writer more discretion about when to use the comma before “and” in a series. AP suggests that a short list like the first example above does not need a comma. But it advises in favor of the serial comma if the items in the series are complex or contain “and” or another conjunction.

Consider this example:

Sheila brought one each to the picnic: an apple, blueberry and peach and coconut pie.

Was it a blueberry and peach pie or a peach and coconut pie? Inserting a comma adds clarity.

Sheila brought one each to the picnic: an apple, blueberry and peach, and coconut pie.

So there you have the long answer to whether you need a comma before the final “and” in a series. It’s probably best to follow the trend and use it consistently. Doing so will keep your writing clear and show good style.

Word Smarts Answer
Find out what it means: http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/bombastic