Monday, April 18, 2022

Day 15 - Oxford comma

Which of the two following sentences is correct?

For breakfast today, I had bread, butter, cheese and jam.

For breakfast today, I had bread, butter, cheese, and jam.

The only difference in the above two sentences is the comma before 'and'.

Both are okay, since the meaning remains the same.

This comma is called the 'Oxford comma'. It comes after the penultimate item and before 'and' or 'or' in a list of items.

It's so called because Oxford University Press introduced it around 1900 to reduce ambiguity while listing out items.  

SHOULD WE USE IT OR NOT?

What I learnt in school was that when you list a number of items, you don't need a comma before 'and' or 'or' because the conjunction (and / or) brings in the pause and clarity which otherwise is provided by the comma.

However, now I realise that the style books of some organisations (like The Chicago Manual of Style, Garner's Modern American Usage) mandate its use; while those of others (like Associated Press Stylebook and The New York Times Style Book) don't.

Interestingly, while The Oxford Style Manual is for it, the University of Oxford Style Guide is against it.

Some, like The Economist, leave it to the context of the usage.

I don't use it, if it isn't required. 

WHEN IS IT REQUIRED

Look at this sentence:

Nimmy gave the bunch of flowers to her parents, Susan and Chris.

Since there is no Oxford comma, I will presume that Susan and Chris are Nimmy's parents.

If they are not, then you need an Oxford comma. 

Nimmy gave the bunch of flowers to her parents, Susan, and Chris.

Or, list them in a different order:

Nimmy gave the bunch of flowers to Susan, Chris and her parents.

So be careful, punctuations (actually not just the Oxford comma) can alter meanings!

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.

19 comments:

  1. Thanks for the nice English tutorial. I did not know this because I never went to Oxford.

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  2. Interesting . As a tech writer I use and know its importance. However enjoyed reading about it again. I love Oxford comma !

    Dropping by from a to z The Pensive

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  3. In general I'm a fan of the Oxford Comma, but I recently had to correct someone's writing because they had used it, and then there was a supplemental clause and that needed a...
    Grammar is convoluted.

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  4. I have been using grammarly app, the free version. It always insists me to put a comma in the list before and /or. And it was then I discovered this 'Oxford comma'. But till then I have never used comma for this purpose.

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  5. This is new to me. I have never used a comma before 'and' or 'or'. A new learning today :)

    www.promisingpoetry.org

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  6. Hari OM
    Like yourself, I had been taught not to use a comma before 'and' - and other such tidbits as never start a sentence with And, But, Because... all of which appear to have gone the way of dinosaurs!!! I do actually pay for premium Grammarly, and frankly, would not be without it - though I do quite often override its 'suggestions' and corrections! YAM xx
    O=Orb

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  7. Unfortunately because my grammar is based more on what sounds good to me and not on actual rules, my use of this comma is quite arbitrary 🤭

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  8. The Oxford comma is one of those topics people seem to get weirdly passionate about, with the pro/anti sides at each other's throats. I generally use it as I'm all for reducing ambiguity.

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  9. Beautifully explained, Pradeep. As an English academic writing teacher, this topic frequently comes up! I am like you; I only use it when necessary.

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  10. I'm team Oxford comma. But when I teach English, I leave it up to the kiddos.

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  11. Your post makes the usage of the oxford comma so clear. I'm partial to using the oxford comma--but (hopefully) not when it isn't needed.

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  12. I'm not a fan of the Oxford comma. Great post.

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  13. I was taught the same way as you Pradeep, but then blogging started and I found that adding the Oxford comma made a lot more sense when I was listing several things. I think it makes the sentence much clearer and it's become my standard now.

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  14. Thanks so much so rthe explenation. I had never really understood what the Oxford comma is, even if I often hear about it.
    As for punctuation, I often go 'instictively', as it so often is the case in my own language, Italian. In Italian, we have very few rules about punctuation, so when we use it, it's to create rhythm or to create sense, like in the last example you did.

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter - Enter the New Woman

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  15. Hi Pradeep - I have to admit ... I just go by instinct and what makes sense when I read an article or sentence through ... excellent explanation though - well done! Cheers Hilary

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  16. I guess I've always used the Oxford comma and just didn't know. I feel so refined using punctuation of such caliber.

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  17. I'm an Oxford comma gal all the way. In fact, for the first example I'd delete the comma behind 'For break fast today'. Heh...

    And if you're bored, here's a music video named 'Oxford Comma'...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_i1xk07o4g

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    1. Uh, the video is weird compared to just listening to the song...

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