Oxford Comma

This Writing Wednesday is likely to ruffle a few feathers, but I’m past the point of caring.

There is a time and place to use the Oxford comma—simple lists are not that time or place.

Here’s my train of thought when it comes to The ComIf a pause would benefit the sentence’s flow, by all means! Please add it!

But if you’re just being disruptive for the sake of RULES, knock it off.

Here’s what I mean:

  • We ate a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast.
  • We ate a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast.

First of all, it looks terrible. Stuffed to the gills with little flips of the pen. For what? A totally unnecessary pause.

Every comma signifies a pause.

Whenever you add a comma, read the pause. READ IT. Does it sound normal? Like a natural pause? Great. Leave it.

But if you’re forcing the pause/sounding like a total doofus, delete.

Read the breakfast thing again, and be sure to add the pause after “eggs”.

Now quit being a drama queen.

I’m not saying the Oxford comma is worthless. It’s actually a very respectable piece of punctuation. So shouldn’t it be reserved for only the most important of lists? The most complex, if you will?

  • The message could be interpreted as an attack on the quality of the work, an offer to chip in on the project or a request for more information.
  • The message could be interpreted as an attack on the quality of the work, an offer to chip in on the project, or a request for more information.

See! Now there’s a pause I can get behind—natural, effortless, very much needed. The comma works!

(You could even use a semicolon there. It’s much handier than you might think.)

Without the comma, they could be offering to chip in on the project or a request.

But with the comma, the message could either be an offer or a request.

Easy enough? Sure. Until I add the catch.

There’s always a catch.

Some simple lists are kind of weird and absolutely need The Com.

  • I invited my parents, Beyoncé and Chris Evans.

Now, it would be one thing if my parents were actually Queen Bey and Captain America, but they’re not (thank God).

Instead, we’re talking about the guest list for my birthday party, on which my parents, Beyoncé, and Chris Evans are all listed.

Did you notice? It read totally different, right?!

If you need further convincing, just know the Associated Press is on my side.

As is Oxford University’s PR department. I can’t make that up.

Then again, I’ll never say no to healthy discourse. If you still disagree, let me know in the comments.

But remember the pause.

—-

Title Credit: Vampire Weekend

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