Grammar: the Oxford comma

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As quoted by Lynne Truss in her book Eats, Shoots and Leaves: “There are people who embrace the Oxford comma, and people who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.”

The serial comma, commonly known as the Oxford comma, is a comma that is placed before the coordinating conjunction in a list. Its use is controversial and widely debated. Many people support the use of the Oxford comma and many are opposed to it. Some people are not bothered and believe that its use is the choice of the writer.

“I was inspired by Marilyn Monroe, my biological father and my boyfriend”.

Many people would say that this sentence is grammatically describing a single person. Marilyn Monroe is being described by the writer as their biological father and their boyfriend.

To correct this, you would use an Oxford comma. “I was inspired by Marilyn Monroe, my biological father, and my boyfriend”. Although many would see this comma as unnecessary (since, regardless of the existence of a comma, the writer is clearly describing 3 people, and not an incestuous, transsexual movie star), you can see how adding a single comma can completely change a situation.

A sentence with a different context could be far more ambiguous in the same structure. For example, if someone read the sentence “I sat at the table with Douglas, my boss and a very large man”, it is understandable that there may be some confusion over whether this is a list of 3 people or 1 person.

Some people are against the use of the Oxford comma because it can create ambiguity. “I sat at the table with Douglas, my boss, and a very large man” could mean “Douglas, who is my boss, is sitting at the table with me and a very large man”.

What is your opinion? Is the use of the Oxford comma necessary, or does it cause more problems than it fixes?Oxford comma

One Response to Grammar: the Oxford comma

  1. Terry Gilbert-Fellows April 13, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    Well done Callum. I like it a lot and Marilyn M’s boots are a definite fashion statement.

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