Comma Before And

  • Whether or not you put a comma before and depends on how you’re using and. There’s no single rule that applies to all situations.
  • Putting a comma before and in a list is almost always optional. This kind of comma is called the serial comma or the Oxford comma (both terms refer to the same thing). Here’s an example of a serial comma: The dog is young, well trained, and good natured.
  • You should usually put a comma before and when it’s connecting two independent clauses: The dog is young, and it’s also well trained.

Comma Before And in Lists

A lot of people have strong feelings about putting a comma before and in a list. Exactly why this particular quirk of comma usage stirs such passions is hard to say; it’s just one of those things. If you’ve ever heard someone arguing about serial commas or Oxford commas, this is what they were talking about.

Let’s say your dog has so many great qualities that you just have to tell the world. When you list your dog’s qualities, you have to use a comma after each quality you list except the one that comes immediately before and. That comma is optional.

The dog is young, well trained, and good natured.
The dog is young, well trained and good natured.

The sentence is correct with or without the comma before and. (There are a few exceptions that require you to use the Oxford comma in a list, but they are pretty rare.) Just be consistent. Don’t switch back and forth in the same document between using the Oxford comma and not using it.

Question comma before and

By the way, this rule only applies to lists of three or more items. You should not use a comma before and if you’re only mentioning two qualities.

The dog is well trained, and good natured.
The dog is well trained and good natured.

This is true for proper names, ordinary nouns, verbs, or anything else.

Sam, and Sarah take excellent care of their pets.
Sam and Sarah take excellent care of their pets.
The dog barks, and plays.
The dog barks and plays.

Comma Before And That Joins Two Independent Clauses

The word and is a conjunction, and when a conjunction joins two independent clauses, you should use a comma with it. The proper place for the comma is before the conjunction.

On Monday we’ll see the Eiffel Tower, and on Tuesday we’ll visit the Louvre.

The sentence above contains two independent clauses (highlighted in green), so it requires a comma before and. (By the way, you can tell they’re independent clauses because each one could stand on its own as a complete sentence.)

Here’s a tip: Remember, when you’re joining two independent clauses, you need both a comma and a conjunction. If you use a comma without a conjunction, you’ll end up with a comma splice.

Let’s look at another example.

It’s cold outside, and I can’t find my coat.

Once again, we have two independent clauses: It’s cold outside plus I can’t find my coat. Therefore, we need a comma before and.

Don’t use a comma before and when one of the clauses it’s connecting is a dependent clause.

Sam tossed the ball, and watched the dog chase it.

The first clause, Sam tossed the ball could stand on its own as a complete sentence, which means it’s an independent clause. But the second clause, watched the dog chase it, can’t stand by itself as a complete sentence. That means it’s a dependent clause, so we should not use a comma before and.

Sam tossed the ball and watched the dog chase it.

Exceptions

But wait! There’s an exception. (Isn’t there always?) When you have two independent clauses joined together by and, most style guides say that it’s OK to leave the comma out as long as the two independent clauses are very short and closely connected. Here’s an example:

Arthur cooked and Melvin cleaned.

It’s not wrong to add a comma before and in the sentence above, but doing so might make the sentence a little choppy.

Want to learn about other ways to use a comma? Check out our general guide to comma usage.

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Comments
  • Chris Sharer

    I say only put the comma if you pause at that point saying it out loud.

  • Bob Pasky

    So. if a comma is optional before and, how do I get Grammarly to stop asking if I want one inserted?

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