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This sentence doesn't need a comma after "heat":

The stuffy heat made him nauseous.

This needs one:

The muggy air, stuffy heat, made him nauseous.

Because we included "the muggy air."

Is this comma placement correct? What's the general rule?

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    Strictly speaking your second example isn't "grammatical / syntactically valid" anyway, so it doesn't necessarily mean much to pronounce on whether the final comma should be present or not. Bear in mind that although your specific example only has two items in the "list", this particular stylised / literary form would often include at least three elements. Whatever - for ease of parsing, I suggest that you should always include that final "Oxford comma". Ignore anyone suggesting it's "optional" - in this exact context, it's effectively required. May 28, 2020 at 14:46
  • (By which I mean to imply that the "general rule" is it's a stylistic preference whether to include a comma after the final item in a list. But that general principle doesn't apply to this specific case.) May 28, 2020 at 14:48

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The example you give would be typical of speech, but not good written English. The phrase "stuffy heat" seems to have no function. It isn't linked to the rest of the sentence in any way.

You should write:

The muggy air and stuffy heat made him nauseous. (or nauseated if you want to use the prescribed adjective)

There are no commas required.

With a list of three or more items, then you separate with commas:

The muggy air, stuffy heat, and smell of dung made him nauseous.

(I've used an Oxford comma, though it is optional, and proscribed by some)

In speech you are more likely to get inserted phrases, not part of a list but just added in as an extra or to give an example. When transcribing speech you can use round brackets:

The muggy air (stuffy heat) made him nauseous.

Using parenthesis—or dashes—to represent this in writing is clearer than using commas.

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    Using dashes here would also work. May 28, 2020 at 20:34

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