In English, to avoid a phrase to be misunderstood, the Oxford comma is used.

To my parents, the Pope, and Mother Theresa

Without the serial comma, the phrase would become to my parents, the Pope and Mother Theresa, and it could be understood as saying that my parents are the Pope and Mother Theresa.

(Granted, there are cases where the Oxford comma would make a phrase ambiguous.)

Since Italian doesn't use the Oxford comma, how can I avoid any ambiguity with that phrase?
I am sure that using the comma before e (and) is not standard in Italian, and it was considered an error at the times I went to school.

Ai miei genitori, il Papa e Madre Teresa.

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    How about "Ai miei genitori, al Papa e a Madre Teresa"? I think that if you write this way no one will think that the Pope and Mother Teresa are your parents. – Kyriakos Kyritsis Nov 9 '13 at 8:27
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    Kyriakos is right. You can also use Oxford's comma in italian. Maybe it is not grammatically correct, but is commonly used. – Shu Nov 9 '13 at 8:36
  • I tend to use a construction like that of Kyriakos. That should be posted as an answer, so it can be upvoted and accepted. – d11wtq Nov 9 '13 at 9:19
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    @Shu: I am not sure Oxford comma is “commonly used” in Italian. Where have you seen it? There are other cases in which a comma may well come before an “e”: for instance, a sentence like “Ho visto Gianni e Luigi, e siamo andati tutti insieme a prendere un caffè”. – DaG Nov 9 '13 at 9:49
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    @martina One can say dedicato a mamma, papà e nonna. I believe it's the different grammatical number, plural and singular, that requires repeating the preposition. – egreg Nov 9 '13 at 10:08

In the phrase the verb dedicato is probably implicit. Saying

ai miei genitori, il Papa e Madre Teresa

would only mean that the Pope and Mother Theresa are my parents, with no ambiguity whatsoever. In this case it's the grammatical number that makes the difference:

ai miei genitori, al Papa e a Madre Teresa

will convey the correct information. If I want to dedicate my book

*ai miei maestri, colleghi e allievi

I'll choose this form rather than the clumsy

*ai miei maestri, ai miei colleghi e ai miei allievi

The slight ambiguity is immediately cast out, because no one can be master, colleague and pupil of the same person.

Also the article can get into the matter:

a mamma, papà e nonna

would be correct. Note that nonna wants the article in some variant of Italian (a nonna is more Central than Northern Italian). But, with articles,

alla mamma, al papà e alla nonna

tends to require repeating the preposition. The article is not compulsory, but if used the preposition becomes somewhat necessary in front of all terms. I'm not saying that

alla mamma, papà e nonna

is ungrammatical, but it doesn't sound right to my ear. If the gender is the same as in

alla mamma, zia e nonna

it could be right, but leaving a small ambiguity as whether my mother is also my aunt and grandmother. So, when the article is involved, repeat the preposition.

Similarly one will tend to say

andrò al mare, al lago o ai monti

because one term is plural and the others are singular; again, andrò al mare, lago o monti is not good to my ear. On the other hand

andrò a Rimini, Riccione o Igea Marina

can avoid repeating the preposition, but andrò a Rimini, a Riccione o a Igea Marina would be good as well. Here no article can be used, of course.

  • +1 for saying that in some cases there isn't any ambiguity since the same person cannot have the listed roles all together. – kiamlaluno Nov 10 '13 at 8:30

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