Pedantic, romantic, and the Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma has just taken centre stage, along with Donald Trump.

Oxford. Bodleian Library. Credit Benjamin Elliott

Did you know it was a thing?

Must say here at Fremantle Shipping News we love it.

If I were to list the things we love most, for example, the emdash, the semicolon, the colon, the …,the UPPERCASE, and the Oxford comma, it’d be the Oxford comma. For sure.

So what is the Oxford comma exactly, you ask?

ChatGPT explains –

‘The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is the comma placed before the conjunction (usually “and” or “or”) in a list of three or more items. Whether you should use it depends on your style guide or personal preference. Some style guides recommend its use for clarity.’

In our list of things we love most it’s the last comma, the one after ‘UPPERCASE’ and before the ‘and’. provides another example without the Oxford comma: “I had eggs, toast and orange juice.”

With the Oxford comma it would read: “I had eggs, toast, and orange juice.”

Using the Oxford comma, Grammerly agrees, can clarify meaning in certain sentences, like distinguishing between items in a list more clearly.

Or providing EMPHASIS, which is why we – and OF COURSE the former President, LIKE IT! give these further examples of its use.

I like oatmeal, eggs, and fruit salad for breakfast.
Erika, Andy, and Isaac live on Maple Avenue.
First-year writing skills include prewriting, outlining, editing, and revising.
Be sure to buy mulch, seeds, flowers, and fertilizer.
Launch in five, four, three, two, one, and blast off!

The Oxford is the very last comma in each sentence.

The non-purists say unless you’re writing a news article for a particular publication or drafting an essay for school, whether or not you use the Oxford comma is generally up to you. However, omitting it can sometimes cause some strange misunderstandings, and even if you’re following a professional or personal style that doesn’t use the Oxford comma, it’s always permissible to use one to avoid these.

I love my parents, my dog and my cat.

Without the Oxford comma, this sentence could be interpreted as saying you love your parents, and that your parents are your dog and your cat. Here’s the same sentence with the Oxford comma:

I love my parents, my dog, and my cat.

For some, the Oxford comma has become a subject of debate. Those who oppose its use argue that rephrasing an already unclear sentence can solve the same problems that adding an Oxford comma would.

I love my parents, my dog and my cat.

This sentence could be rewritten as:

I love my dog, my cat and my parents.

Chat GPT gives another example where it says omitting the Oxford comma can lead to confusion:

“With this scholarship, I would like to thank my parents, Oprah Winfrey and God.”

Without the Oxford comma, it could be interpreted that the person’s parents are Oprah Winfrey and God. Adding the Oxford comma clarifies the intended meaning:

“With this scholarship, I would like to thank my parents, Oprah Winfrey, and God.”

Grammar can be so pedantic, sometimes romantic, but always fun. You really do have to love the Oxford comma!

By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News


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