Chicago Style Workout 1:
Series and the Serial Comma

IMG_20150818_160326_881What’s your Chicago style fitness level?

Does your résumé claim that you are familiar with The Chicago Manual of Style? If a potential employer decided to test you on that claim, would you come out looking strong—or would you be left dangling halfway up the rope?

Today we’re launching a new monthly feature at Shop Talk that will give you regular opportunities to evaluate the strength of your knowledge of Chicago style. If you’re a beginner, exercise with us! Build some editorial muscle.

Each Chicago style workout focuses on a small part of CMOS. Advanced editors might tackle the exercises cold; learners can study the related sections of the Manual ahead of time.

One important caveat: the workouts are all about Chicago! If you’re an expert in MLA, AP, or New York Times style, you might be surprised to find that your instincts don’t quite match Chicago’s. That doesn’t mean that your answer is necessarily “wrong”—it just means it isn’t Chicago style.

Today’s workout zeroes in on the section of the Manual called “Series and the Serial Comma,” paragraphs 6.19–6.21 in CMOS 17, with a detour into 6.56–60 (on semicolons). (Subscribers to The Chicago Manual of Style Online may click through to the linked sections of the Manual. We also offer a 30-day free trial of CMOS Online.)

[Editor’s update: This quiz has now been updated to refer and link to the 17th edition.]

Ready? Go!

Chicago Style Workout 1: Series and the Serial Comma

Note: These questions are designed to test knowledge of The Chicago Manual of Style. Other style guides may have different rules and guidelines. The first five items are true/false statements, and the last five ask you to judge whether the example does or does not follow Chicago style.

1. When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series of three or more, a comma (known as the serial or series comma or the Oxford comma) should appear before the conjunction.
2. In a series whose elements are all joined by conjunctions, no commas are needed unless the elements are long and delimiters would be helpful.
3. When an ampersand (&) is used instead of the word and (as in company names), the serial comma is omitted.
4. When elements in a series include internal punctuation, or when they are very long and complex, they may need to be separated by semicolons rather than by commas.
5. The phrase as well as is equivalent to and.
6. On Twitter, she follows her school librarians, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.
7. Jeremy and Loretta gave $12.50 toward the $100 gift; Aisha, in a rare show of generosity, gave $67.55; Stuart found $4.00 in his sofa cushions; and Denys made up the difference with a contribution of $15.95.
8. This chapter offers tips on kitchen organization; an overview of equipment, measures, and cookbooks; and ways to achieve perfect jams and jellies.
9. Do you have class on Monday, or Wednesday, or Friday?
10. The dog growled, the cat meowled, and the boy just chewed on a straw.


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54 thoughts on “Chicago Style Workout 1:
Series and the Serial Comma

  1. Could someone please tell what dictionary the word meowled is listed in? Fun quiz. I’m going to be using these with my copyediting team at work.

    • Could it be a combination of the words(sounds) meowed and howled? The quiz is definitely a useful tool. Thanks for sharing.

  2. i find mistakes for fun.i assumed i was a proofreader but so far,i’ve only missed one answer on two workouts! chicago style so far seems to mirror a catholic school education. i always assumed copy editing,and you did indeed warn about other styles,had a whole new set of rules to learn.i realize it was only commas and probably beginners luck but still fun. i admire your site,your city,and your profession. and yes,i’ve invented my own rules for’s just not equivalent to anything but what it, i am civil always but i capitilize,never.

  3. I loved this, too! I was surprised I didn’t get 100 percent on what I consider one of the easier rules to remember. I”m going to hit the books. Please keep them coming!

  4. When I submitted my answers, I got the message “Error Occured:error Forbidden.” I don’t think the message is Chicago style. Also, I’m sad that I can’t get my score.

    • Connie, we’re sorry for the hitch! Did you remember to fill out the “Captcha” before clicking Submit? We just tested the quiz, and it worked fine at this end.

  5. Pingback: Chicago Style Workout 1:Series and the Serial C...

  6. Oh, no! It never crossed my mind that Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga were not librarians. I need help that the Chicago Manual of Style can’t provide!

    • I totally did the same thing as Sandra–because the serial comma wasn’t there (and because I achieved the feat of forgetting that the whole point of the quiz was to assess the serial comma), as I read the sentence I automatically assumed that in its world T-Swift and Lady Gaga were the speaker’s school librarians. “Sounds right to me!”

      Shows the power of the serial comma’s absence…

  7. The problem with question 9 is that if commas are not used the answer could be either a day of the week or “yes.”

      • That problem exists with any question with an ‘or’ serial. It’s how ‘or’ works logically; “yes” will be a logically correct answer if you have class on at least one of those days. In conversation, however, that answer alone might be blatantly unhelpful.

  8. In 9 the meaning is indeterminate. The provision at 6.18 does not distinguish two quite different motivations. Here I apply different punctuation:

    A. Do you have class on Monday or Wednesday or Friday? The bookshop is open just those three mornings, so you could pick up your special order before class.
    B. Do you have class on Monday, or Wednesday, or Friday? Tell my assistant so he can settle when we should meet for lunch.

    Compare two ways of understanding the relevant example at 6.18 (and I add commas in B):

    A. Would you prefer Mendelssohn or Schumann or Liszt? That would give some variety; but if you insist on Beethoven, can we at least avoid the Pathétique?
    B. Would you prefer Mendelssohn, or Schumann, or Liszt? We must choose only one piece, remember.

    All this assumes that the wording itself is fixed (in a transcript of speech, say).

    Are we seriously to believe that the B cases but without commas are well-considered Chicago style? Another hypothesis: the distinction was not considered, in framing 6.18.

  9. Rats! I momentarily forgot we were doing commas. I marked No. 7 “not Chicago style” because of the “.00” after the $4 — ah, well …

    • Like you, I lost points on No. 7, not because of the $4.00 but because of the $100, which I thought should have been $100.00 according to 9.21: “Whole amounts expressed numerically should include zeros and a decimal point only when they appear in the same context with fractional amounts.” But I guess you’re right: we were “doing commas.”

  10. Loved the quiz. Need more of them! And yes, I also noticed that ‘meowed’ was misspelled but I thought it was just the editors being cute.

  11. Having appreciated the sense of humor in so much of the “Chicago” publications, I, too, thought that the “librarians” were named Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. I also thought #10 was not “Chicago style” because “meowed” is misspelled.

  12. I made a 100 on the first try 🙂 I use the Chicago Manual regularly. I have it flagged throughout. Love it!!

  13. I missed question 5 for an 89. But I’m at peace with my answer—for me, “as well as” carries a sense of subordination—admittedly slight—that isn’t there with “and.”

  14. Wow–would have been perfect except that I thought that Gaga and Taylor WERE the school librarians and their names were appositive.

  15. My editing style is based on a lifetime of reading, but lately I’ve been trying to learn the actual differences between the various styles. I answered the above questions exactly how I would edit them and am pleased that I scored 100%. Looking forward to more of these!

    • Hello,

      That error may appear if you forget to enter the CAPTCHA or enter it incorrectly. Please let us know if this isn’t the case. We want to make sure everyone can enjoy the quiz.

      —The CMOS Team

      • Benet, we’re sorry you’re having trouble with this. We’ll be monitoring the Captcha issue; we might have to find another way to fight the robots!


        • On my screen, three characters appeared: the first was unrecognizable—was it an “f” or a European-style “7” with a cross?—and appeared to be only partly on the screen, followed by 1 and 9. I finally used the audible.

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