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Sept. 9, 2022

The Oxford Comma

The Oxford Comma

     Class is in session! How many commas do you use in a series of items in a sentence? Do you know that there is something called the "Oxford Comma?" Do you know that it used to be "required," but the current rule is that you can choose whether or not to use this comma?

     When to use a comma? Do not use a comma between a subject and a verb. Do use a comma to separate ideas, clauses, or a series (list) of items/words in a sentence. The Oxford Comma is a comma that comes before that last item in a list - right before the final conjunction in the series. It is also known as the final comma in a "serial comma" grouping. I like to eat carrots, peas, and green beans. I like to eat carrots, peas and green beans. (See? Oxford Comma v. No Oxford Comma.)

     Did you know that law suits have been won or lost for want of a comma? For lack of an Oxford Comma, a company lost a suit and it cost them $5 million. "For want of a comma, we have this case,” U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Judge David Barron said in March, 2017. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/think-commas-don-t-matter-omitting-one-cost-maine-dairy-n847151

     Commas are important! Oxford commas are important! (Unless they aren't...sometimes they change the meaning in a way you don't intend.) If you are in the No Oxford Comma camp, I think you might want to reconsider. Other grammarians say you should stay in the No camp. They say that these commas are extraneous and unnecessary clutter in the sentence. I say, the presence or lack of an Oxford Comma can completely change the sentence and its perceived meaning. Sometimes you REALLY need one, especially if you want to keep your $5 million. Other times, you REALLY don't need one.

      See the following example of a time when you might want to use one:

     I love my parents, Mario, and Rapunzel. (Meaning: I love three things: 1) My parents, 2) Mario (the video game), and 3) Rapunzel.)

     I love my parents, Mario and Rapunzel. (Meaning: I love my parents, and their names are Mario and Rapunzel. If their names REALLY are Mario and Rapunzel, then you don't need the comma. If you love Mario and Rapunzel in addition to your parents, you definitely do need the Oxford Comma.)

     The conventional wisdom right now is to use it if it is necessary for clarity, and don't use it if it would clutter the sentence or make the meaning ambiguous. It is a hotly debated topic, and is likely to remain a hotly debated topic well into the future.

     Clear as mud? I'm glad I could clear that up for you. I am now going to read, study, and enjoy an iced coffee.

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