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In a book I had read about punctuation, it wasn’t clear about coordinate items in which one of the items contains a coordinating conjunction.

This was the example:

“The resort offers elegantly appointed rooms, casitas, and villas and four swimming pools, along with other existing amenities.”

I’m guessing the reason there’s not a comma after villas is that the four swimming pools are included with the villas. If it isn’t the reason, why don’t we need a comma after villas?

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It's because there are two lists. The first list is "things that are elegantly appointed"; the modifier "elegantly appointed" fronts the list and applies to everything in it. "Appointed" in this sense is about interior decoration and doesn't apply to swimming pools.

You could imagine building this structure up from something simple:

  • Bill rides horses and bicycles. (There are only two items in this list so no comma is needed.)
  • Bill rides horses, elephants, zebras, and bicycles. (This is still just a list of things he rides.)
  • Bill rides [wild horses, elephants, and zebras] and bicycles. (There is a "big list" of two items and they are both things he rides. The first item is itself a list of wild animals. It would be a mistake to leave out the "and" before zebras because bicycles are not wild.)

Now, this zebras-and-bicycles sentence isn't very comfortable, and it might be smart to reword it. I think I might feel the same way about the example sentence for the resort. There's a danger that, reading my sentence, the reader thinks that the modifier "wild" only applies to the "horses," and the second item in the list is just "elephants." Something like this might be clearer and flow better: "After its redesign, the resort now offers elegantly appointed rooms, casitas, and villas, as well as four new swimming pools, along with other existing amenities."

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  • Thank you for the clear explanation!
    – Piermo
    Feb 2 at 20:54
  • I think there is a mistake. rooms, casitas and villas, and four swimming pools, No Oxford comma
    – Lambie
    Feb 2 at 21:08
  • @Lambie what is it? Feb 2 at 21:11
  • @Lambie Yeah, I didn't even get into the presence or absence of Oxford commas. But while your interpretation is one of the possibilities, I'm not sure it makes sense. For Piermo, that's: "We have elegantly appointed rooms; and we have casitas and villas; and we have four swimming pools." For me, since casitas and villas are spaces that can be "elegantly appointed," I'm inclined to believe the comma is intentional, and that "elegantly appointed" applies to all four. Feb 3 at 3:51
  • But the general point is sound: A series could contain a "X and Y" phrase nested within it. This could easily get confusing and is another reason to reword. E.g. "We have peanut butter and jelly, ham, and turkey sandwiches." Either we have three kinds of sandwiches, one of which is PB&J... or we have some peanut butter as well as three kinds of sandwiches, one of which is jelly... OR maybe we have a jar of mixed peanut butter and jelly, as well as some ham, and some turkey sandwiches! Feb 3 at 3:56

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