series (grammar and sentence styles)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A series of adjectives in William Hazlitt's essay "On Living to One's Self" (1821). (Getty Images)

In English grammar, a series is a list of three or more items (wordsphrases, or clauses), usually arranged in parallel form. Also known as a list or catalog.

The items in a series are usually separated by commas (or semicolons if the items themselves contain commas). See Serial Commas.

In rhetoric, a series of three parallel items is called a tricolon. A series of four parallel items is a tetracolon (climax).

From the Latin, "to join"

Pronunciation: SEER-eez

Advice About Series

Journalists, style guide authors, and others have provided advice about series—what they are, how to craft them, and what to avoid in creating them.

Winston Weathers and Otis Winchester

  • "Although the four-part series is indicative of a human, emotional, subjective, involved attitude, each additional lengthening of the series increases and magnifies this attitude, and begins to add an element of humor, even absurdity. [William] Hazlitt, writing about human beings, the Public, his own 'kind,' [above] uses the long series to indicate great involvement, great feeling, and a certain sense of humor about it all. The Public is mean, but so ornery that we almost have to laugh."
    (The New Strategy of Style. McGraw-Hill, 1978)

G. J. Alred et al.

  • - "Do not use etc. at the end of a list or series introduced by the phrase such as or for example--those phrases already indicate items of the same category that are not named."
    (The Business Writer's Handbook. Macmillan, 2003)

James Kilpatrick

  • - "In an unenumerated series, place the longest element last."

Susan Neville

  • "With their repetitions, their strong rhythmic qualities—lists are often the most musical section of a piece of prose, as though the writer suddenly broke into song."
    ("Stuff: Some Random Thoughts on Lists." AWP Feb. 1998)

Using Series

Many writers, in popular periodicals and books, as well as characters in animated films and even a former U.S. president, have used series in their writings, dialogue, and speeches to great effect, as these excerpts show.

Daniel Lyons

  • "Twitter has become a playground for imbeciles, skeevy marketers, D-list celebrity half-wits, and pathetic attention seekers: Shaquille O'Neal, Kim Kardashian, Ryan Seacrest."
    ("Don't Tweet on Me." Newsweek, Sep. 28, 2009)

Emily Hiestand

  • "Tea is the steady companion of the Scottish day, and each hotel, no matter how humble, stocks its rooms with supplies for brew-ups: electric pot for boiling water, ceramic pot for brewing, china cups and small tea creamers, a raft of teas, honey, fresh milk, and lemons."
    ("Afternoon Tea," The Georgia Review, Summer 1992)

Donkey and Shrek

  • Donkey: I don't get it, Shrek. Why didn't you just pull some of that ogre stuff on him? You know, throttle him, lay siege to his fortress, grind his bones to make your bread? You know, the whole ogre trip.
    Shrek: Oh, I know. Maybe I could have decapitated an entire village, put their heads on a pike, gotten a knife, cut open their spleens and drunk their fluids. Does that sound good to you?
    Donkey: Uh, no, not really, no.
    (Shrek, 2001)

Sue Townsend

  • "Daisy said some cruel and heartless things about me, my personality, my looks, my clothes, my parents, my friends, the way I eat, sleep, drink, walk, laugh, snore, tap my teeth, crack my fingers, belch, fart, wipe my glasses, dance, wear my jeans up around my armpits, put HP sauce on my toast, refuse to watch The X Factor and Big Brother, drive . . . The litany went on and on and was interspersed with tears and sobs."
    (Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years. Penguin, 2010)

Nancy Gibbs

  • "Go on vacation with your siblings; you will be back in the treehouse of code words and competitions and all the rough rivalries of those we love but do not choose as family. I am more likely to read trashy books, eat sloppy food, go barefoot, listen to the Allman Brothers, nap and generally act like I'm 16 than I'd ever be in the dark days of February. Return to a childhood haunt, the campground, the carnival, and let the season serve as a measuring stick, like notches on the kitchen doorway: the last time you walked this path, swam this lake, you were in love for the first time or picking a major or looking for work and wondering what comes next."
    ("To the Time Machine!" Time, July 11, 2011)

Jeremy Paxman

  • "The fictional model for the country gentry is the hard-riding, heavy-drinking, red-faced, Hanoverian-damning, 'Pox!'-exclaiming, no-nonsense Squire Western in Fielding's Tom Jones."
    (The English: A Portrait of a People. Overlook, 2000)

Anthony Lane

  • "Throughout [the movie] Sinister, the rooms remain darker than crypts, whether at breakfast or dinnertime, and the sound design causes everything in the house to moan and groan in consort with the hero's worrisome quest. I still can't decide what creaks the most: the floors, the doors, the walls, the dialogue, the acting, or the fatal boughs outside."
    ("Film Within a Film." The New Yorker, October 15, 2012)

Bill Bryson

  • "Knowing already of the town's carefully nurtured reputation for gentility, I moved [to Bournemouth] in 1977 with the idea that this was going to be a kind of English answer to Bad Ems or Baden-Baden—manicured parks, palm courts with orchestras, swank hotels where men in white gloves kept the brass gleaming, bosomy elderly ladies in mink coats walking those little dogs you ache to kick (not out of cruelty, you understand, but from a simple, honest desire to see how far you can make them fly)."
    (Notes From a Small Island. Doubleday, 1995)

Edward Abbey

  • "Most of the public lands in the West, and especially in the Southwest, are what you might call 'cowburnt.' Almost anywhere and everywhere you go in the American West you find hordes of these ugly, clumsy, stupid, bawling, stinking, fly-covered, shit-smeared, disease-spreading brutes. They are a pest and a plague. They pollute our springs and streams and rivers. They infest our canyons, valleys, meadows, and forests. They graze off the native bluestem and grama and bunchgrasses, leaving behind jungles of prickly pear. They trample down the native forbs and shrubs and cacti. They spread the exotic cheatgrass, the Russian thistle, and the crested wheat grass."
    ("Even the Bad Guys Wear White Hats." Harper's Magazine, January 1986)

Henry David Thoreau

  • "I am no more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or a sorrel, or a horse-fly, or a humble-bee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the northstar, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house."
    (Walden, 1854)

P.G. Wodehouse

  • "'Oh, look,' she said. She was a confirmed Oh-looker. I had noticed this at Cannes, where she had drawn my attention in this manner on various occasions to such diverse objects as a French actress, a Provençal filling station, the sunset over the Estorels, Michael Arlen, a man selling coloured spectacles, the deep velvet blue of the Mediterranean, and the late mayor of New York in a striped one-piece bathing suit."
    (Right Ho, Jeeves, 1934)

President John Kennedy

  • "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
    "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
    (Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961)

Thom Jones

  • "The sandwiches were stuffed with alfalfa sprouts and grated cheese, impaled with toothpicks with red, blue, and green cellophane ribbons on them, and there were two large, perfect, crunchy garlic pickles on the side. And a couple of cartons of strawberry Yoplait, two tubs of fruit salad with fresh whipped cream and little wooden spoons, and two large cardboard cups of aromatic, steaming, fresh black coffee."
    (Cold Snap, 1995)

Vladimir Nabokov

  • "While politely discussing with him my father's sudden journey to town, I registered simultaneously and with equal clarity not only his wilting flowers, his flowing tie and the blackheads on the fleshy volutes of his nostrils, but also the dull little voice of a cuckoo coming from afar, and the flash of a Queen of Spain settling on the road, and the remembered impression of the pictures (enlarged agricultural pests and bearded Russian writers) in the well-aerated classrooms of the village school which I had once or twice visited; and--to continue a tabulation that hardly does justice to the ethereal simplicity of the whole process—the throb of some utterly irrelevant recollection (a pedometer I had lost) was released from a neighboring brain cell, and the savor of the grass stalk I was chewing mingled with the cuckoo's note and the fritillary's takeoff, and all the while I was richly, serenely aware of my own manifold awareness."
    (Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited. Random House, 1966)

W.S. Merwin

  • "The one with the assortment of smiles, the one
    Jailed in himself like a forest, the one who comes
    Back at evening drunk with despair and turns
    Into the wrong night as though he owned it—oh small
    Deaf disappearance in the dusk, in which of their shoes
    Will I find myself tomorrow?"
    ("Sire." The Second Four Books of Poems. Copper Canyon Press, 1993)

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Nordquist, Richard. "series (grammar and sentence styles)." ThoughtCo, Jun. 27, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, June 27). series (grammar and sentence styles). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "series (grammar and sentence styles)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).