Sentence structure and commas in lists. Task A. Task B. Task C. Why do these three sentences sound strange?

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1 Task A Why do these three sentences sound strange? 1. Sharon finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog. 2. Last year I visited Morocco, Egypt and I went to Tunisia. 3. Emma went home in tears, embarrassment and a taxi. Why are these three sentences more successful? 4. I like ice cream, pizza and chocolate. 5. My brother enjoys seeing his friends, watching movies and travelling. 6. The sunset was red, orange and yellow. Task B Sentences A4 A6 are obviously simple, but the same structure can also be seen in more complex sentences. Underline and number the three different causes listed in the sentence below. The causes of the decline in the swallow population of Eastern Europe since 1995 have been identified as deforestation, disease carried by migrating birds from Africa and a sharp increase in natural predators such as the red fox. Task C Correct the following sentences: 1. Sharon finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog. 2. Last year I visited Morocco, Egypt and I went to Tunisia. 3. I always aim for the best and to succeed in whatever I do Page 1 of 5

2 4. My friend is a bachelor. His only pleasures in life are seeing friends tending the garden and an occasional drink. 5. When I was last on holiday, I lost my bag with all my clothes, money and I lost my passport. Task D What s the difference in meaning between these two sentences? 1. I want to thank my parents, Tina and Jake, for their support. 2. I want to thank my parents, Tina, and Jake, for their support. Task E Match the sentences and the meanings. Write the letters next to the numbers below. 1. The café serves fish and chips, cold meat, pies and sandwiches. 2. The café serves fish and chips, cold meat pies, and sandwiches. 3. The café serves fish and chips, cold, meat pies, and sandwiches. 4. The café serves fish and chips, cold, meat pies and sandwiches. a. The meat pies are cold. b. The meat is cold. c. The sandwiches may all contain meat. d. The fish and chips are cold. The sandwiches do not all contain meat Page 2 of 5

3 Task F Sentences D2, E2 and E3 are examples of a serial comma or Oxford comma. Is the Oxford comma needed in the sentences below? If not, remove it. 1. I went on holiday with my sisters, John, and Andrew. 2. For breakfast I usually have orange juice, eggs, and toast. 3. The drop in unemployment has been attributed to an upturn in the economy, an increase in the proportion of zero-hours contracts, and a rise in the number of people becoming self-employed. 4. My sister s favourite activities are watching action films, going out with her friends, and riding her bike. 5. The toys are colourful, cheap, and safe for very small children. Extension 1 Write a short description of yourself, your life, and your family and friends. Try to use sentences with the structure x, x and x, where appropriate. Extension 2 Write a definition of a key concept from your field of study. Try to use sentences with the structure x, x and x, where appropriate Page 3 of 5

4 Teaching notes Level: intermediate (B1/B2). Timing: Tasks A C: 40 minutes Tasks D F: 25 minutes Extension 1: 20 minutes Extension 2: 15 minutes Objectives: to understand the need for equivalent structure in items in a list to understand when a serial comma / Oxford comma is helpful. Preparation: An interactive version of Task E is available on Enter in the quick search box, and then click on the star icon. Answers Task A Sentences It sounds as though Sharon cooks her family and cooks her dog. 2. Tunisia could just be part of the list after I visited. It doesn t need the new verb, I went to. 3. All the items can be used after in, but they are very different types of thing. Sentences 4 6 They all have the structure x comma x and x ( x, x and x ). The items in each list are of the same word class and are from the same lexical set (on the same topic). 4. They are all nouns. They are all types of food. 5. They are all in the gerund. They are all free-time activities. 6. They are all adjectives. They are all colours. NB A1 is adapted from real-life example. For the original and more like it, you could look at the following website: A3 is an example of zeugma (using a word to modify two or more others, but in different ways). It is often used for comic effect in literature, for example: Miss Bolo [ ] went straight home, in a flood of tears and a sedan chair Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, Ch Page 4 of 5

5 Task B as (1) deforestation, (2) disease carried by migrating birds from Africa and (3) a sharp increase in natural predators such as the red fox. Task C These are some of the possible answers. The important thing is that the same grammatical structure is repeated and that the commas and the word and are in the correct place. 1. Sharon finds inspiration in cooking, spending time with her family and walking her dog. 2. Last year I visited Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia. 3. I always aim for the best and for success in whatever I do. / I always aim for the best and try to succeed in whatever I do. 4. My friend is a bachelor. His only pleasures in life are seeing friends, tending the garden and having an occasional drink. (Note that the original sentence meant that he enjoys watching his friends doing the gardening, rather than doing it himself!) 5. When I was last on holiday, I lost my bag with all my clothes, all my money and my passport. / When I was last on holiday, I lost my bag with all my clothes and money and my passport. (Note that I lost my bag with all my clothes, money and passport isn t an ideal solution, as all my clothes and all my money are possible, but all my passport is not.) Task D 1. Tina and Jake are the names of the writer s parents. The writer is only thanking two people. 2. Tina and Jake are not the names of the writer s parents. The writer is thanking four people: his parents and two others. Task E 1b; 2a; 3d; 4c Task F 1. Needed, otherwise it means that the writer s sisters are called John and Andrew! 2. Not needed. Eggs and toast is a perfectly sensible grouping. (However, American grammarians would recommend using a serial comma in the following sentence: For breakfast I usually have eggs, orange juice, and toast. Orange juice and toast without a comma could suggest that the two are combined, with the toast dipped into the orange juice or the juice poured on top of the toast.) 3. Not needed. (Though American grammarians recommend using a serial comma in a series of complex phrases.) 4. Helpful, otherwise the sentence could mean that my sister rides her bike when she goes out with her friends. 5. Helpful, as cheap and safe for very small children would suggest that very small children buy the toys themselves Page 5 of 5

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