The Oxford Comma

For B.L.

Yeah, that last comma before the “and” is called the Oxford Comma. You can read more about it in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a very entertaining book which I recommend.

I was taught to use the Oxford Comma in grade school, but I’ve noticed that many people don’t use it. If I recall correctly from Eats, Shoots & Leaves, it is a stylistic matter, and not everybody agrees. But to my eyes, it just looks awful if I see it missing.

She showed me a sample online where it stated that ambiguities occur when enumerating if a comma were not in place:

…the car dealer said the seat covers were available in yellow, red,white, black and tan, and other special colors..

(one may mistake black and tan as two-tone without the comma before “and”). My view: The sentence construction was flawed to begin with. One never uses two “ands” in a sentence. A better version:

..the car dealer said the seat covers were available in yellow, red, white, black, tan and other special colors.

D’accord? …or is my English “archaic”…or so she says?

I wouldn’t say you’re English is archaic; this is a matter of style. But I do subscribe to the Oxford Comma. Yet I also agree, the sentence inherently had some ambiguity that could be resolved with better wording, as you’ve shown. Here’s another way to avoid the two “ands”:

..the car dealer said the seat covers were available in yellow, red, white, black, and tan, as well as other special colors.

Other posts on WordPress on the Oxford Comma: Mr. Comma, and the Oxford Comma.

You might find these interesting.

Here’s a case where an extra comma cost millions of dollars.

Let us not forget the Apostrophe Wars; whole cities just don’t like them.

How To Use The Apostrophe Correctly.

The Apostrophe Protection Society of New Zealand.

Apostrophe Catastrophe (blog).

Not to mention the Semicolon Wars.

Addendum (02/14/09): join the Semicolon Appreciation Society. And this shows some humor: 10% of the proceeds of this semicolon T-shirt goes to support the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

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