What is the Oxford comma?
The Oxford comma (also known as Harvard comma or Serial comma) is the comma inserted just before the coordinating conjunction (usually ‘and’ or ‘or’, and sometimes ‘nor’) in the last item of a list of three or more items. For example: This blog is dedicated to Jack, Jill, Red Riding Hood, Captain Kirk, and Spock.
Examples of the Oxford comma
Few examples of using the Oxford comma:
They had a choice between red, blue and green pencil.
There is ambiguity about the colour of pencils. Do they have a choice between red pencil and blue-green pencil or do they have a choice between red pencil, green pencil, and blue pencil? A comma before and removes the ambiguity: They had a choice between red, green, and blue pencil.
To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.
In the above sentence, there is ambiguity about the writer’s parentage. Does the writer claims that ‘Ayn Rand’ and God are her parents? A comma before and removes the ambiguity: To my parents, Ayn Rand, and God.
When to use the Oxford Comma?
I use a serial comma ONLY when it satisfies all the following three conditions:
- It can be inserted just before the coordinating conjunction (usually ‘and’ or ‘or’, and sometimes ‘nor’)
- It appears at the end of a list of three or more items.
- It removes ambiguity in the sentence.
What is the connection between the Oxford, Harvard, and the Serial comma?
A rumour suggests that the serial comma was traditionally used by printers, readers, and editors at Oxford and Harvard University Press and so it got connected with these two Universities.
Oxford University says NO to the Oxford comma!
Oxford University style guide advises writers, “As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’.” However, it does suggest using the Oxford comma if it would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity.
Style Guide opinion on the Oxford comma
In favour: The Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, most authorities on American English and Canadian English, and some authorities on British English (for example, Oxford University Press and Fowler’s Modern English Usage) recommend the use of the Oxford comma.
Against: Newspaper style guides (such as those published by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, The Times newspaper in the United Kingdom, and the Canadian Press) recommend against it, possibly for economy of space.
WTF Video about the Oxford comma
Sorry, Vampire Weekend, but I do give a F*** about the Oxford comma:
Still finding it difficult to understand the Oxford comma?
This cartoon from mumblrmumblrmumblr blog explains it quite nicely. Though JFK and Stalin may not entirely agree. Will you?
I was taught in school not to use the Oxford comma but I often use it to remove ambiguity in the sentence. Where do you stand on the Oxford comma? Leave a comment and let me know.
Image Credit: tungphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net & mumblrmumblrmumblr