The Oxford Comma Debate
Guest Post from Jocelyn Blore
Proper use of punctuation used to be the territory of editors and lonely grammar enthusiasts. One punctuation mark, however, has been catapulted into the popular consciousness with articles by The Economist, NPR, Mental Floss, and others, not to mention a hit song by Vampire Weekend. I’m speaking of course about the Oxford comma.
Quick test: In a hypothetical Oscar acceptance speech to the Academy, which would be correct?
A: “I’d like to thank my parents, Bill Hudson and Goldie Hawn.”
B: “I’d like to thank my parents, Bill Hudson, and Goldie Hawn.”
The answer is: It depends. If you’re Kate Hudson and your parents really are Bill Hudson and Goldie Hawn, ‘A’ would be appropriate; if, however, you’re thanking four people (your parents in addition to the actors), ‘B’ would be the correct response.
Although the debate rages on, I am on Team Oxford Comma — confident in my belief that the Oxford comma is essential in clarifying meaning. Detractors, on the other hand, attest that the Oxford comma is unnecessary and redundant.
The following infographic examines both camps, as well as where mainstream publications are drawing lines. Which side are you on?
The Oxford (Serial) Comma
Serial Comma (Within List Of Similar Elements)
When creating a list or series of multiple things which are similar, commas should be used to separate each item in the list.
N.B. American English requires the use of a comma before the last and in a list; British English does not. Be sure to follow local protocol, particularly in formal writing.
Teenagers are often anxious to grow up, get a job, and move out of their parents’ house.
If you look carefully, there are three things teenagers want to do: 1) grow up, 2) get a job, and 3) move out of their parents’ house. These are similar things (they’re all things teenagers are anxious to do), so we need both commas.
I still have to buy a gift, pack the suitcases, and arrange for someone to water the plants while we’re at the wedding.
Mary needs bread, milk, and butter at the grocery store.
To use or not to use? The Oxford comma debate is a pretty heated one. Do you use Oxford (serial) commas?