Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by cutecat22, Aug 22, 2014.
Do you love it, hate it, use it or bin it?
I like to use it.
I use it for clarity. For example, consider the following sentence:
"I took a picture of my brothers, the captain of the football team, and the valedictorian."
The presence of that second comma makes it clear that I'm talking about three distinct things. Without the comma, readers could interpret it to mean that my brothers are the captain of the football team and the valedictorian.
I once had an argument with a colleague over this because it's considered (she said) British English to have a list and not have a comma after the second last word. So it would read 'Eggs, bread and milk'. But this doesn't quite make sense, it is completely logical to use the Oxford comma.
A meme I saw recently put it better than I ever could have thought to put it myself: "'I'm inviting the strippers, JFK, and Joseph Stalin, is not the same thing as 'I'm inviting the strippers, JFK and Joseph Stalin' because as far as I know, JFK and Stalin were not strippers".
I use it. What's the harm in one more comma?
There's a lot of arguing (not here) about the clarity thing.
Let's take your example, some would say it's not needed because, as you so rightly said, some would interpret the literal meaning of your sentence, that your brothers are both the captain and the valedictorian.
But what about common sense?
Commas are used to separate items on a list. At the end of the list, the word 'and' replaces the comma and so is not needed. Your sentence is just that, a list of four or more people. (brothers (plural)/captain/valedictorian)
Were it to mean that one brother was the captain and one was the valedictorian, surely you would write:
I took a picture of my brothers, one being the captain of the football team and the other who was chosen as this year's valedictorian.
When implying that one brother is the captain and the other is the valedictorian, I prefer to just leave off the comma in my previous example, mainly because it's shorter and easier to write. Of course, I could use a colon after "brothers" as well. Also, if another person doesn't know that I have any brothers in the first place, he/she can't really use common sense to figure out what I mean.
Personally, I sometimes use it, sometimes not. It depends. So for this question, I'm playing Devil's Advocate.
I remember reading somewhere that Americans tend to use the Oxford comma more often than English speakers in other countries. So what country you're from may be a factor here.
I'm going with common sense on this one - JFK and Stalin are dead!
If I were to interpret this as the strippers being called JFK and Stalin, I would expect perhaps a semi colon. I'm inviting the strippers; JFK and Stalin.
This is very likely the case. I wasn't actually taught about the 'Oxford Comma' as it's named, I was just always taught not to use a comma before certain words, 'and' being one of them.
Thinking about JFK and Stalin as strippers is making me want a drink. Of vodka.
I think I'd rather put the vodka in my eyes!
There is simply no reason to not use the Oxford comma. You gain clarity and lose nothing. It literally has no downside.
I use it, and did even before I went to Oxford.
Here's the thing, as I see it. If the reader has to stop to apply logic ...oh, JFK and Stalin weren't strippers, were they? ...ach well, he must mean strippers AND Stalin AND JFK ...then you've interrupted the flow. Put that comma in there, and there is no quibble, no stopping, and the reader doesn't get even momentarily distracted.
I'll venture a guess that when you're actually reading a story you won't notice an Oxford comma at all. You will notice when they're absent, though. It's a frequent hiccup.
It's not a matter of 'love' or 'hate,' any more than you 'love' or 'hate' each sentence beginning with a capital letter. A starting cap is a signal to the reader that the sentence is beginning. Yes, you could leave it out, and just let the period/full stop be the guide. But how silly is that? Don't make things more difficult for the reader than they need to be. Writing is tough enough. Don't set up more hurdles to clamber over as we run the course.
The use of the Oxford comma is completely optional---the important part is to be consistent with its use. However ...
Personally, I am steadfastly on team Oxford comma, because as many of you have already said, it aids in clarity.
The memo was addressed to accounting, marketing and financing.
So is the memo addressed to two departments or three? Is marketing and financing one department? Why am I having to ask this question when a comma would clear it all up?
Punctuation was developed to mimic the nuances in spoken language, yes? A comma represents a pause. When saying this aloud, would you pause between marketing and financing? I would. This is a natural pause point as it aids in spoken clarity.
That's kind of the whole point of punctuation. Eh, many people argue this fact. As I said, it's optional.
If that's the case, then I would use it in some circumstances and not others.
If I were to write "While you are the shop, please can you pick up some milk, eggs, butter and cheese?" then any reader would expect the shopper to come back with four separate items. Everyone knows you don't have cheesy butter.
But, I can see where, in the sentence that includes accounting, marketing and finance, a reader might think that marketing and finance are part and parcel of the same office and only need one memo.
are we reading too much into the rules of punctuation or, as someone said earlier, should each individual writer make up his/her own mind whether to use it or not, providing they stick to it consistently.
Whether you use it or not, you have to be consistent. I'm primarily a fiction writer, so I always use it because it adds clarity in many instances and keeps my readers from stopping to consider the true meaning of the sentence. Anything that keeps the reader moving gets my vote.
Well, that certainly works.
However, so does this: "While you are the shop, please can you pick up some milk, eggs, butter, and cheese?"
If you were saying it out loud, the 'comma' pause would be there—unless you plan to say 'milk, eggs, butterandcheese.'
It really doesn't hurt to put the comma in, does it? That way you can be consistent and you don't need to ponder each instance, wondering if somebody's going to misinterpret what you've written. It's just my opinion, but I think the comma makes sense.
Interestingly, the Oxford Comma does go against what I was 'taught' in school. But since becoming a writer and a beta reader, I've discovered it solves many comprehension problems. So I'm now a fan!
The only reason people don't like it, is because it conflicts with the rule that you shouldn't have a comma preceding the word 'and'.
Is that a rule just for lists? And is always preceded by a comma in compound sentences.
It's not the rule for lists; lists have a comma before the word and. There is a name for the last and in the list. I would have to look it up to tell you what it is, though. I can't remember at the moment.
The lecture should include the following parts:
- common comma usage
- common semicolon usage, and
- the way punctuation works in a list.
A running list is the same as a bulleted list like the one above, just formatted horizontally rather than vertically. The lecture should include the following parts: common comma usage, common semicolon usage, and the way punctuation works in a list. See?
I would leave out the comma at the end if the final item is something like bacon and eggs, which is considered a single item. But still, the sentence would look like this: For breakfast I had orange juice, toast, pancakes, and bacon and eggs.
I was always taught not to precede 'and' with a comma. At all.
But in a list, you wouldn't have the two 'ands'
Separate names with a comma.