Monday, April 15, 2019

The Oxford Comma: Should You Use It?

Image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay

The Oxford comma is one of the most interest punctuation marks, only because there is a lot of question on whether it’s necessary. Some believe wholeheartedly that it adds clarity to your writing.  Likewise, some may find it useless or overused. As long as you understand its usage, it’s all up to you.

What Is the Oxford Comma?

The Oxford comma is always up for debate. There have even been legal cases that hinged on the Oxford comma. No other type of punctuation has quite the same reputation. So, what is the Oxford comma? The Oxford comma is the comma before the conjunction at the end of the list. Some would say that it slows down the pace of the writing, while others say that it offers clarity. The truth is that it can do both of those things in different contexts.

When it comes to the Oxford comma, the rules tend to be based on the style that you’re using. Some style guides require it, while others do not. When you’re writing for yourself, you get to choose whether you want to use it or if you think you should omit it.

Popular Style Guides For and Against

The two authorities that dictate whether it ends up used are the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style. The Oxford comma is not the only grammar point that these two authorities struggle with. Proper capitalizations and spellings are also worth noting when it comes to these style guides. However, one thing that has stayed the same is the Oxford comma.

Chicago style recommends it for almost every instance, whereas AP style is against it in most cases. While AP doesn’t ban it entirely, it believes that you should only use it if it’s necessary for clarity. Otherwise, ditch it because it’s not an essential marker.

Clarity: Arguments For and Against

The biggest argument for the Oxford comma is that it offers clarity when you are constructing a list. Most people have seen the various examples of a missing Oxford comma changing the meaning of a sentence. It is true that this can happen. However, there are arguments that stand in direct counter of the clarity argument.

One argument is that you can always reword a sentence to give it more clarity. You can write a list in a way that makes it clear what you mean, rather than creating a misunderstanding. The truth is that you can rewrite any sentence for clarity if necessary. The Oxford comma simply makes some sentences easier to follow than others are.

When it comes to the debate about the serial comma, there really is no right or wrong answer. Unless you are bound to a style guide, it is all about personal preference. Some writers have a fondness for the Oxford comma and others think that it’s better to leave it out. As long as you can get your message across and be understood without the need for clarity, then it doesn’t matter if you use it or leave it out.


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