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Right: red, white and blue, and green and yellow ... we know whether two or three (flags) are under discussion.

Wouldn't you have used a comma after "green" for the three-flag case?

No. "red, white and blue, and green and yellow" could refer to three (flags):
red
white & blue
green & yellow
or to two (flags):
red, white & blue
green & yellow
Similarly, the following could refer to 3 or 4 (flags): "red, white and blue, green and yellow"
Adrian
#2 is correct. Some of the replies you've received seem ... and blue Right: green and yellow red, white and blue

Piffle! There are two conventions, and the one you deny is the betterone.

You're saying that "The flag was green, and yellow" is better than "The flag was green and yellow"??
Read up on the serial comma in the FAQ. Also, see http://ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm#1, where you'll read the following: Use a comma ... series (three or more things), including the last two. "He hit the ball, dropped the bat, and ran tofirst base."

Does it have to be at least three elements then?
What is an element? A clause? Not an adjective?
You may have learned that the comma before the "and" is unnecessary, which is fine if you're in control of ... is complex or lengthy), these last two items in the list will try to glom together (like macaroni and cheese).

Perfectly true.
Using a comma between all the items in a series, including the last two, avoids this problem.

Aha, the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut approach to linguistics.
This last comma-the one between the word "and" and the preceding word-is often called the serial comma or the Oxford ... will seldom finda serial comma, but that is not necessarily a sign that it should be omitted in academic prose.

Rather non-committal, isn't it?
Adrian
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(flag#1 = red/white/blue; flag#2 = green/yellow) 1. The two flags were red, white and blue and green and yellow. 2. ... white, and blue and green and yellow. 4. The two flags were red, white, and blue, and green and yellow.

First of all, (2) and (3) are right out because they're ambiguous. Although you state the number of flags, I want to read (2) as meaning that the flags were (a) red, (b) white and blue, and (c) green and yellow; and I want to read (3) as meaning that they were (a) red, (b) white, and (c) blue and green and yellow.
Of the remaining two, I prefer (4) for two reasons. I favor the serial comma, so I prefer "red, white, and blue" to "red, white and blue". And I think (4) is easier to parse because it lacks the long commaless stretch of "white and blue and green and yellow".
-Aaron J. Dinkin
Dr. Whom
Piffle! There are two conventions, and the one you deny is the better one.

You're saying that "The flag was green, and yellow" is better than "The flag was green and yellow"??>

Are you faking ignorance? Of course, I'm not saying that. You know better, I'm sure> OK, so you want to be difficult and pick on the ridiculous part. OK, I'll explain it to you in very simple language my remark is about the last part of your example (the second line below your "Right"):
Read up on the serial comma in the FAQ. Also, ... the ball, dropped the bat, and ran to first base."

Does it have to be at least three elements then? What is an element? A clause? Not an adjective?

Sheesh. Do you have to be taught everything? Read the rest of the material on the site. Don't bother me, I'm not a teacher I don't have the patience for being one.
You may have learned that the comma before the "and" ... list will try to glom together (like macaroni and cheese).

Perfectly true.

Yup.
Using a comma between all the items in a series, including the last two, avoids this problem.

Aha, the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut approach to linguistics.

Hey, take it up with them, not me. Perhaps they'll listen to you, who knows? I won't.
This last comma-the one between the word "and" and the ... a sign that it should be omitted in academic prose.

Rather non-committal, isn't it?

True. You want to say something that you should be committed for?

I think you already have. ;-)

Skitt (in Hayward, California)
www.geocities.com/opus731/
wrote:

to

How should the sentence have read? Where does the "to" go, or what should it replace?

"It is to no avail." Things are "to", not "of", no avail.

-Aaron J. Dinkin
Dr. Whom
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"It is to no avail." Things are "to", not "of", no avail. -Aaron J. Dinkin Dr. Whom

Is this a pond thing again?
The NSOED lists the "of" option before the "to" option.

NSOED:
avail n.LME. (App. f. the vb, but cf. AN avail.)

1 Beneficial effect, advantage; assistance; value, estimation. arch.exc. in neg. or interrog. phrs. LME.

2 sing. & (usu.) in pl. Profits, proceeds; remuneration, perquisites.arch. LME.
1 of little avail, of no avail, to little avail, to no avail.to what avail?
without avail.

Paulo
How should the sentence have read? Where does the "to" go, or what should it replace?

"It is to no avail." Things are "to", not "of", no avail.

Is that an extra comma I espy? (The one after "of".) Just checking ...
Skitt (in Hayward, California)
www.geocities.com/opus731/
"It is to no avail." Things are "to", not "of", no avail.

Is this a pond thing again? The NSOED lists the "of" option before the "to" option. NSOED: avail n.LME. (App. ... arch. LME. 1 of little avail, of no avail, to little avail, to no avail. to what avail? without avail.

OK, Paolo, this is it are you with them, or are you with us. (Clue: there's more of us than them.)

Skitt (in Hayward, California)
www.geocities.com/opus731/
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(flag#1 = red/white/blue; flag#2 = green/yellow) 1. The two flags ... flags were red, white, and blue, and green and yellow.

First of all, (2) and (3) are right out because they're ambiguous. Although you state the number of flags, I ... (4) is easier to parse because it lacks the long commaless stretch of "white and blue and green and yellow".

I would seriously consider putting a semicolon after "blue":

The two flags were red, white, and blue; and green and yellow.
The version with the comma after "blue" is okay except that it may take a reader a few milliseconds to understand for sure the intended meaning.
Either way is subject to the possible misinterpretation that both flags were of the same five colors, with the writer saying in effect
The two flags were red, white, and blue, and oh yeah green and yellow.
Of course, in real life a careful writer would reword to something like
One of the two flags was red, white, and blue. The other one was green and yellow.
or
One flag was red, white, and blue; the other, green and yellow.
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