Posted in Bookish Things, Reading, Writing, Writing Tips

Punctuation Pantry: the Oxford Comma (To Use or Not To Use)

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Let me put forth a public apology to my faithful readers who have not heard from this blog in a few weeks. Wanna know why? No, you probably don’t. Suffice it to say, school happened, then driver’s ed happened, then editing happened, then a whole bunch of other stuff happened . . . 🙂 Blogs are wonderful, but they suffer when our schedules get stuffed. Who can relate?

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about. The Punctuation Pantry is back, and we’re here to talk about the Oxford comma. Heard of it? Oh, yeah, I bet you have.

Don’t know what it is? No problem – here goes.

I am sending Sally a get-well card, a potted plant, and a new coat.

(I’d like to have a friend who would think to send all that when I’m sick.) 😉

Did you spot the Oxford comma? It comes after the last item in a list. So, after “potted plant.” Now, the controversy surrounding this helpless little comma is that some style guides require it when others don’t. So you have people who like it and people who don’t.

Now, let’s look at that sentence again, without the Oxford comma.

I am sending Sally a get-well card, a potted plant and a new coat.

Not having the comma doesn’t make that sentence confusing. You can mentally insert the separation of the three items. But let’s look at a different sentence.

She took her cousins, Dominique, and Miss Helen to the local fair.

Got it? Now let’s take the Oxford comma out.

She took her cousins, Dominique and Miss Helen to the local fair.

See the problem? A reader might think her cousins are Dominique and Helen. Now, strictly speaking, you’d need a comma after Helen if those names were her cousins’, but that’s a story for another day.

Personally, yes, I use the Oxford comma. It just makes sense. In some sentences, it feels awkward, in some, it’s unnecessary, but in others, it literally makes the difference between a reader understanding and misunderstanding what you’re saying.

And no, you can’t use the comma in one sentence and not in another in the same story. 🙂 Sorry, but . . . no.

So, now that the Punctuation Pantry has been resurrected, tell me your ideas for what we should chat about in the world of grammar!

Your turn! What is your opinion on the Oxford comma? Do you use it? Let’s chat in the comments!

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Author:

Hannah Gaudette is a home-school teen living in the hills of New England. When she’s not writing stories or training dogs, it’s a safe bet you can find her with some other animal, like cats. She’s a life-enthusiast who loves the ocean and The Piano Guys. Enough said.

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