1. "A, B or C"
  2. "A, B, or C"
  3. "A or B or C"

When there are three options: 1, 2, 3, where A, B, C are nouns or noun phrases, I'm wondering which is the best writing style.

  • 1
    possible duplicate of Using commas before "and"
    – user3169
    Jan 17, 2015 at 6:14
  • @user3169 "and" and "or" are different words and have different meanings. Jan 17, 2015 at 6:16
  • As I read your question, it is about comma use and placement in a list. I think "and" and "or" will follow the same rules in this respect.
    – user3169
    Jan 17, 2015 at 6:18
  • @user3169 "I think "and" and "or" will follow the same rules in this respect." Whether this is correct or not is a part of the question. Jan 17, 2015 at 6:19
  • 2
    What are A, B, C: letters, nouns, noun phrases, adjectives, adverbs, verbs...? Depending upon what A, B, C are, the answer could be anything, especially if you are asking which is the best writing style. A better way to ask would be to ask about a real sentence.
    – user6951
    Jan 17, 2015 at 8:21

2 Answers 2


The first two versions of the list are functionally identical. The only real difference is the absence and presence of the Oxford comma. The use (or omission) of the comma before or (or and) in lists is contentious, and the question linked by user3169 explains it well. For most English writers it boils down to a question of what they were taught to do as small children, or perhaps by an influential teacher at some other point in their lives. There are pros and cons to either usage, but the intended meaning is the same.

The part of your question that isn't answered in the linked page is the difference between options 1 and 2 versus option 3. The inclusion of the word or twice is sometimes used for emphasis.

Suppose I asked you to choose among A, B, and C (I was taught to use the comma by Mrs. Clark in 2nd grade. :) ) and you were struggling to make a single choice. I might repeat my question, including both articles and putting particular emphasis on the word or. Adding that emphasis and repeating the word would demonstrate that you should choose one and only one option. To be clear, this is not a particularly formal style of writing, but it is good for spoken English if you really need to make your point about this sort of thing.

You can choose A or B or C.

From Harry Potter (book 1):

"Students may bring an owl OR a cat OR a toad."

The repetition and capitalization make it clear that students are allowed to bring at most one pet from the list.

  • A or B or C is known as polysyndeton. It is not improper per se, but it is generally used for stylistic reasons (for emphasis, etc) and not in more ordinary phrasing.
    – eques
    Jan 20, 2015 at 18:02

The first one looks like there are only two options

Option #1: A; Option #2: B or C

The second one seems to be a better choice. It has three options

Option #1: A; Option #2: B; and Option #3: C

The last one is the same as the second one but not a preferable style (as you are asking). I mean I've encountered this style less frequently.

  • I disagree that the first one looks like only two options. In real life: you can have (sausages), or (ham or eggs). Person A chooses sausages, person B chooses ham and person C chooses eggs.
    – Sydney
    Jan 17, 2015 at 7:47
  • @SydneyAustraliaESLTeacher Then how do you actually say that there are only two options? Option A and Option (B & C).
    – Maulik V
    Jan 17, 2015 at 8:48
  • You've changed the issue by switching from 'or' to 'and'. One of OP's options was "A, B or C", to which you said "The first one looks like there are only two options". I said that in real life, this ends up as three options. I maintain that. You next said: "Option A and Option (B & C)". I fully agree that your second formulation is two options: (sausages) and (ham & eggs). The first 'and' doesn't really affect the issue, but second one (&) makes a vital difference.
    – Sydney
    Jan 21, 2015 at 9:59

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