List separation

I was just reading a BBC News article about the death of presenter Kristian Digby, who I’ve never watched on TV before, or even heard of before he died. I found a sentence that I completely misread because of the grammar.

“The property expert, who was born into a family of property developers, worked on a number of other shows including Double Agents, Living In The Sun, House Swap and Buy It, Sell It, Bank It.”

The problem I had was in the list of shows. Due to the lack of a serial comma I read one of the show names as “House Swap and Buy It” which is obviously not a show once you read the rest of the sentence, but seemed like one at first.

Adding the serial comma would be a nice start, but would still potentially cause confusion in the final item of the list, which contains 2 commas of its own. Normally when one or more list items contain internal punctuation (their own commas, for example) you should separate the items with a semi-colon.

I was going to use point 2b on this page on the Northern Illinois University website as my source, until I read the rest of the page and noticed that they’d written poles instead of polls. That’s not to mention that the top of the page includes the phrase “weak period” which I don’t particularly want to get into.

Instead I point you to Essentials of English Grammar: a practical guide to the mastery of English by L. Sue Baugh. 🙂

Now you know. 🙂