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The following is a question from the ACT that I answered incorrectly with H. It illustrates an important rule regarding commas in a series that I'm still mixing up. The gray highlighted portion can be changed with any of the answers below:

Salad Greens and herbs, such as arugula, Swiss chard, black kale, rapini, sage, and oregano, shared one large plot, given their similar moisture requirements.

F. NO CHANGE

G. herbs – such as arugula, Swiss chard, black kale, rapini, sage, and oregano

H. herbs, such as arugula, Swiss chard, black kale, rapini, sage, and oregano

J. herbs; such as arugula, Swiss chard, black kale, rapini, sage, and oregano

The ACT always requires the Oxford comma. However, I can't find examples of what to do with the last item in a series if the sentence continues after the last item. In this example, only F sets off the last item (oregano) with a comma from the rest of the sentence. Is this comma always necessary after the last item in a series if the sentence continues or is that not always the case but just happens to be so in this example?

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The sentence includes parenthetical nonessential information. You can parse it like this:

Salad Greens and herbs (xxx) shared one large plot . . .

To maintain this construction, you need to use a pair of some some kind of punctuation mark: the parentheses I used in my example (which isn't one of the available answers), commas, or dashes.

None of the proposed replacement options offer a phrase that concludes with a second punctuation mark.

Therefore, the only option that's available is the original—which results in a pair of commas:

Salad Greens and herbs, xxx, shared one large plot . . .


Note that if there is no parenthetical nonessential information, that a closing punctuation mark (as the second in a pair) is not required.

For instance:

(Essential) "I ate cheese, crackers, and olives for a snack before dinner."
(Parenthetical nonessential): "I ate a snack, which included cheese, crackers, and olives, before dinner."

  • Thank you! So just to clarify, this particular sentence requires the comma to set off the parenthetical non-essential information. However, that does not mean the last item in a series must ALWAYS be set off if the sentence continues after the series. – user27343 Sep 22 '18 at 21:28
  • I should only be concerned with using commas in a series between elements while remembering to include the Oxford comma. Whether or not the last item in the series is set off from the rest of the sentence depends on the actual sentence. – user27343 Sep 22 '18 at 21:32
  • @user27343 That's quite right. I've updated my answer with a couple more examples. – Jason Bassford Sep 22 '18 at 21:33

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