In TV series and films I sometimes come across enumerations that lack the "and" or the "or", and sometimes even have something very different used instead.

  • What do you want coffee with? Milk, chocolate?

  • So where are we going to? France, England, Germany, maybe Italy?

  • I want to make pasta with mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese.

Is it a an acceptable way to enumerate in both formal and informal English or only in informal English? What is the grammar behind this style?


The first would be better punctuated as What do you want coffee with? Milk? Chocolate? The second is similar. In both cases the single words are linked back separately to the first sentence. There could be a separate answer for each word. Another form is Do you want milk? Chocolate?

If the last example is a question it would follow the same pattern. (Is it OK if) I want to make pasta with mushrooms? Tomatoes? Cheese? Otherwise it would be wrong; it is as if the speaker stopped without finishing the sentence. Probably there should be and before the last word in this example, but or could be used.

I can only recall hearing this construction used to abbreviate a series of questions, where a series of answers or a combined answer is expected. As a statement it doesn't work.


@Peter’s answer covers how this construction might be valid.

That said, people don’t always follow the rules, especially in informal speech. For instance, we may start talking before the list is mentally complete and risk running out of items before we get a chance to say “and”, but we can’t go back and unsay the last item to insert it. (If you ever hear “and [pause] that’s it” at the end of a list, that is someone trying to cover this up.)

Specific to newspapers, dropping “and” in headlines is done deliberately to save space. If “A and B and C and D” can be shortened to “A, B, C and D”, then why not take the last step to “A, B, C, D”? This idea that the comma replaces “and” is why many folks oppose the serial comma.

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