As we discussed in last week’s writing tip, writing has always been a major skill of the Renaissance Man. Not only for personal journal keeping, but often times for publication and distribution. Today’s tip aims to explain a very small but important part of writing: the Oxford Comma. The picture above is of Oxford University, in case you were wondering.
The Oxford Comma (as it’s popularly called) can also be called the serial comma or even the Harvard Comma. The simplest explanation is that an Oxford Comma is the comma that is placed directly before the conjunction preceding the final item on a list of three or more items. Here’s an example: “cat, dog, and panther.”
But there is a problem. Some people, like the band Vampire Weekend, journalists following the AP style-guide, and most of Britain (excluding the Oxford University Press… hence the name) do not adhere to the use of the Oxford Comma. (note the use of one in the previous sentence).
The argument is often that the Oxford comma is redundant as the conjunction serves to sufficiently separate the two items in the list. But this is not always the case. Take for instance the following sentence:
“I would like to thank my roommates, Morgan Freeman, and God.”
Without the Oxford Comma you get:
“I would like to thank my roommates, Morgan Freeman and God.”
The implication of the second sentence is that your roommates are in fact Morgan Freeman and God. While the previous sentence involving a cat, a dog, and a panther, would make sense with or without the Oxford Comma. The second sentence means two entirely different things depending on whether or not you use an oxford comma. Both are grammatically correct, but you can’t intend both.
It may seem trivial, but paying attention to your use of this commonly debated comma could save you from an awkwardly ambiguous statement.
What is your opinion of the Oxford Comma?