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Including but not Limited to: Meaning, Punctuation, and Usage

There is a distinct difference between the formal and informal style in any language, and English is no different. It is quite common to find that specific phrases only apply in particular situations, while other expressions and phrases are mostly used only in a formal context, like in contracts or business.

“Including but not limited to” means that the terms listed are not limited to the explicit ideas expressed in the statement. It is a phrase most often used in legal documents or binding contracts. Comma placement in the phrase is most common before the “but” and after the “to”.

If you are drafting a legal or formal document, using the correct phrases and wording is of the utmost importance to get the proper point across and avoid loopholes. This article will explore the origin and use of the expression, “including but not limited to,” what it means, the punctuation that goes along with it, and how to correctly apply it.

Punctuation of “Including but not Limited To

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If you use the phrase “including but not limited to” for a very short list of things, punctuating the actual phrase isn’t a grammatical necessity.

However, if you use it along with a very long or complex list, you can use commas so the reader can better understand what you mean.

The word “including” is a gerund, which means it is a verbal ending in -ing. A verbal is a word based on a verb and, therefore, it is used to indicate an action or state of being.

Although gerunds often need little to no punctuation, it is common to place a comma before a gerund like “including” (source).

Some example sentences using a comma before the gerund “including”: 

I have many hobbies, including, but not limited to, horse riding, fencing, cricket, and painting. 

My mom adores great artists, including, but not limited to, Van Gogh, Monet, and Dali.

Comma Use and the Oxford Comma

Writers often use the Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, in English with long and complex sentences, such as lists for items, which often occurs with the phrase “including but not limited to.”

The Oxford comma’s purpose is to indicate whether the two last things mentioned in a list are two separate things or whether they are examples of the previous thing.

No Oxford CommaI love my parents, Rihanna and Sherlock Holmes.This means that the speaker loves their parents and that their parents are Rihanna and Sherlock Holmes.
With Oxford CommaI love my parents, Rihanna, and Garfield.This is a list of people that includes parents, Rihanna, and Garfield, and the speaker loves all of them. 

If you were speaking, you would not be able to see the punctuation used and would have to use the context of the sentence to deduce its meaning.

However, when writing, although the oxford comma is optional, it easily clarifies the meaning of a sentence and makes it easier to read (source). 

When you’re using the phrase “including but not limited to,” you would most likely list a large number of items, so the Oxford comma or serial comma would help with the readability of the sentence as a whole.

“Including but not limited to” Comma Placement

We can use commas in various ways to clarify the meaning and ease the readability of your sentence using “including but not limited to.”

The first is to omit the use of commas entirely. This has the potential to make your sentence seem clumsy and untidy if it includes an extensive list, but it is not wrong. Consider the following example: 

The camp activities include but are not limited to team building, archery, and fishing.

As you can see from the above example, the only commas in use are in the actual list, but that’s because the list is short, and the meaning is still clear.

However, many people may find this writing style clumsy, as it seems like a really long sentence that does not offer the reader any breaks.

Therefore, the better way to write a sentence using the phrase “including but not limited to” would be to place commas after the “including” and after the “to,” as in this example:

The camp activities include, but are not limited to, team building, archery, and fishing. 

This writing style offers the reader two breaks in a very long sentence and, as a bonus, looks neat and tidy.

When using commas to break up a sentence, the important thing to remember is that the first and last parts should still make sense even if you take the bit between the commas away.

The camp activities include team building, archery, and fishing.

As you can see, the sentence has retained its meaning but is now vaguer, and the possibility of other activities isn’t as obvious.

That is why we use the full phrase “including but not limited to” — the “but not limited to” implies there is more to the list than what is mentioned outright.

If you were to use the Oxford comma, it wouldn’t change the sentence’s meaning at all and would still be correct (source).

The camp activities include team building, archery, and fishing.

The camp activities include, but are not limited to, team building, archery, and fishing. 

Using “Including but not Limited To” in a Sentence

As with any English phrase, “including but not limited to” needs to have properly conjugated verbs depending on the context.

For this phrase specifically, you would conjugate only the word “including,” but remember that the rest of the sentence needs to be in line with the proper conjugations related to the subject and the noun.

Because “including but not limited to” is often used with the word “is,” you will need to conjugate the “is” as well. Let’s look at how we conjugate verbs for “including but not limited to” for a singular or plural subject.

ExampleThe English alphabet includes but is not limited to the letters A, B, and C. School activities include but are not limited to hockey, netball, and basketball.
Explanation“Alphabet” is singular, so you use “includes” and “is.”“Activities” is plural, so you use “include” and “are.”

Examples Using “Including but not Limited To”

As we’ve discussed, the phrase “including but not limited to” can be used to indicate that the things named in a certain list are part of something larger, and the larger thing may also include other items not mentioned. 

Although it is a legal term, we can also use the phrase in everyday speech, especially if you’re concerned there is something you just couldn’t think of at that moment but that you wouldn’t want to exclude. Below are some sentence examples.

My reading list includes, but is not limited to, Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, and Atonement. 

The company will also pay usual and normal administrative expenses, including, but not limited to, hotel stays, shuttles, and food.

Organizations, including, but not limited to, businesses, unions, charities, and corporations, aren’t citizens and, therefore, cannot vote.

Our itinerary includes but is not limited to a zoo visit, a museum visit, and lunch at the deli.

I enjoy takeaways, including, but not limited to, KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s. 

Origin and Applications of “Including but not Limited To”

The phrase “including but not limited to” originated in the legal field and has since migrated to other official contexts where specific wording is necessary to cover any potential loopholes.

Although writers mostly use this phrase in a legal or contractual context, it can also be applied in everyday informal speech, although this isn’t a widespread occurrence.

When writing legal documents, exceptional care needs to be paid to word use, as ambiguous meanings or interpretations can have catastrophic or costly impacts.

This is why seemingly redundant phrases such as “including but not limited to” are developed specifically for contractual use. 

Even though the words “including” and “not limited to” are similar in meaning, it is important in a legal context to use both as it limits the possibility of ambiguity.

This means that using “including” by itself can lead to the understanding that only what someone specifically stated or laid out is included.

If you use both “including” and “not limited to,” this opens up the possibility that the person drafting the document implies the inclusion of a large range of items without the need to list every single one of them.

For example, you could say that the alphabet includes the letters A, B, and C. You will notice that, although the other letters have been left out, the possibility remains that they are also included.

Still, the possibility also exists that the drafter deliberately left out the other letters so as to exclude them.

If you were to say that the alphabet includes but is not limited to the letters A, B, and C, you ensure that the others are included as well by default.

Although this is a commonly used phrase in legal jargon, certain judges may still consider it vague if someone were to challenge it.

That means that, should a proper case be made for it, a judge may rule in favor of the opposing party if they said that “including but not limited to” was too vague as it did not specifically note down each of the items to be included (source). 

Everyday Use

Although the expression “including but not limited to” is generally used for formal speech, contracts, or in a legal context, you can also informally use the phrase outside of the context of binding contracts or legal documents.

It isn’t very common for English speakers to use this phrase in their everyday language, but using it does not sound awkward.

In an everyday context, the phrase simply means you are implying the set of items or things you list is part of a larger group of things you are not listing specifically.

For example, you could say, “Our day will include but is not limited to a zoo visit, lunch at the local deli, and a tour of the museum.” If used in this context, you are saying that you may do other things during the day, although you do not specifically state them. 

This merely means that, although there are things you include in the list, you may not have thought of everything yet but don’t want to rule out other possibilities (source).

Although the words “including” and “not limited to” are similar, though not identical, in meaning, adding “not limited to” expands on “including” to broaden the scope of things covered.  

Often words with similar meanings are confused by second-language learners, but that does not mean that it is impossible to learn. Another example is “make do” or “make due,” although both mean the same, only one is generally used.

Final Thoughts

The appropriate way to use the phrase “including but not limited to” is when you list several things as examples of a larger group. The group may be so large that you cannot name all of the items, or you may simply be unable to think of the rest of the list at that moment. 

Writers generally use “including but not limited to” in a legal context and often used in contracts or binding agreements when merely using “including” alone could lead to a costly loophole. 

Using the entire phrase implies that there is more to the list than meets the eye and that it encompasses aspects that you did not state outright. We can also use it in everyday speech, but this is far less common.