Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Adding Serial Commas in a Sentence.

Adding Serial Commas in a Sentence

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 6, 2015)

One of the most common issues faced by Emily when editing involves the insertion of the serial comma in an in-line list of items, before the final conjunction between list items. Emily's office enforces the use of the serial comma for clarity and to avoid such potentially awkward phrasings as, "I dedicate this book to my parents, Mother Teresa and Jesus." However, most writers do not like to use this comma, so Emily spends a good amount of time editing it into almost every paragraph of text she comes across. Emily notes that it would make her life easier if she had a macro that would search from the insertion point to the end of the current sentence and insert a comma before the next occurrence of the common conjunctions "and" and "or", but only if there is no comma already there.

The best way to handle this situation is with a macro, as Emily notes. Here is one that will perform the task:

Sub SerialComma()
    Dim MySelection As Selection

    Selection.MoveRight Unit:=wdSentence, Extend:=wdExtend
    Set MySelection = Selection
    Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
    Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
    With Selection.Find
        .Text = "([!,.?;:]) and "
        .Replacement.Text = "\1, and "
        .Forward = True
        .Wrap = wdFindStop
        .Format = False
        .MatchCase = False
        .MatchWildcards = True
    End With
    Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
    MySelection.Select
    With Selection.Find
        .Text = "([!,.?;:]) or "
        .Replacement.Text = "\1, or "
    End With
    Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
    MySelection.Select
    Selection.Collapse
End Sub

The macro first selects everything from the current insertion point to the end of the current sentence. Then, using a wild card search, it searches for an occurrence of the word "and" that doesn't follow a punctuation mark. If it finds it, it replace the occurrence with a comma and the word "and". It will then do a similar search-and-replace operation for the word "or".

This macro can, of course, be assigned to a shortcut key or a toolbar button to make adding this type of comma a snap.

Another configuration change you might want to do is to tell Word that you want to have it mark as incorrect any missing commas in your inline lists. You can make this change in this manner:

  1. Choose Options from the Tools menu. Word displays the Options dialog box.
  2. Make sure the Spelling & Grammar tab is selected. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Spelling & Grammar tab of the Options dialog box.

  4. Click on the Settings button. Word displays the Grammar Settings dialog box. (See Figure 2.)
  5. Figure 2. The Grammar Settings dialog box.

  6. Make sure the "Comma Required before Last List Item" option is set to Always.
  7. Click on OK to close the Grammar Settings dialog box.
  8. Click on OK to close the Options dialog box.

The setting won't insert the last comma for you, but it will catch those instances where the comma is not present.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (9293) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Adding Serial Commas in a Sentence.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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