The Oxford Comma : To Be Used Anywhere, Anytime or Never?
Ever heard of Oxford Comma or the Serial Comma? Well, as a blogger or a copywriter, it is a terminology that we are quite familiar with.
Many of you have likely been told that you must strictly adhere to using an Oxford comma, while others have probably heard that you should not use them at all.
Even I have had the same doubt. Since the day I started my career as a content writer this question has been haunting me, hence I delved into the world of grammar in search of the answer.
But what is the correct answer? What are the appropriate standards and regulations governing the Grammatical world? However, before we get to the truth, let’s learn about Oxford Commas.
What Is An Oxford Comma?
According to the Urban Dictionary, Oxford Comma is also called a Serial or Harvard Comma, and it is punctuation used immediately before grammatical conjunction. It gained its name and popularity because the Oxford University Press (OUP) style guideline makes it mandatory in its publications.
In simple terms, it is a comma that separates the last item in a series of list items, often preceding the words ‘and’, or ‘or’, such as the final comma in the list.
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What Is The Reason For The Ongoing Debate Over Its Use?
Before I answer this question, let’s look at some hilarious Oxford Comma fails by prominent entities.
Sky News published the following headline:
“World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set… “
From a glance, it might appear as if there was a startling whirlwind romance going on. The lack of a serial comma in this headline suggests that Obama might be marrying Castro in preparation for a new peace initiative.
Here’s another direct quote from The Times newspaper based on the Peter Ustinov documentary that says,
“highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”
I can picture how the brows of the reader would have shrunk while reading this.
Another hilarious Serial Comma blunder was spotted on the cover of the popular pet magazine, Tails
“Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog”
The lack of the absence of the several commas in this sentence suggests a creepy cannibalism behaviour.
Nevertheless, the most common debate that is widely found online over the argument of the use of the Oxford Commas goes in the format of the below sentence,
“I thanked my parents, Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello”
Because of the absence of the Serial Comma, it might be interpreted as saying thanks to my parents, who are Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello. In this case, the writer could have avoided this mistake by rearranging the sentence into
“I thanked Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello and my parents”
This indicates that in the construction of any sentence, a comma is able to completely change the meaning of a sentence proving its crucial power.
So Why Is The Oxford Comma Debate Still Raging?
If you examine closely there’s nothing wrong grammatically with the sentence. While this may suggest that large newspaper firms aren’t carefully looking into their editing, the truth is that the newspaper editors are not required to adhere to the use of the Oxford comma. The Associated Press (AP) style is the go-to English style and usage guide for journalism and news writing predominantly in the United States and a few other countries.
The debate about whether to strictly enforce or completely prohibit the use of Oxford commas arises precisely because of the examples described above. Oxford commas may be regarded by many as an inherent means of preventing unruly grammatical errors, however, strict compliance with their usage could prevent good writing and may increase the amount of space in the text, causing difficulties in reading and comprehension.
While #TeamOxfordComma argues of its importance stating it leads to less confusion and clearer structure of comprehensions #TeamNoOxfordComma statues that it is a waste of space and a cause for pause.
Unarguable, in corporate communications and high-end writings like writing for publications that specifically mandate the use of OUP style or academic purposes, the precise and concise use of Oxford commas is extremely crucial.
English grammar rules favour sparingly using the Oxford comma when the sentence is vague, where the sentence might be interpreted differently without the commas. Thus, it is up to the writer to use the Oxford Comma at any point of the text as they deem necessary.
It is paramount to understand that the role of punctuation in a sentence is to provide the reader with clarity by eliminating confusion. Hence, in general use of it is entirely up to the writer to either use or exclude the use of Oxford Commas. However, be very cautious in omitting it as sometimes it could lead to serious misinterpretations.