The Five Reasons to Love the Oxford Comma
I am an #EnglishMajor and a #GrammarNerd. I admit it. In a past career, I taught English at all grade levels from elementary through university. One of the grammar rules that I am most passionate about is the proper use of the Oxford Comma. As an editor, I often find myself adding the Oxford Comma to the copy of my clients, and I do not apologize for making that change. I feel that using the Oxford Comma is imperative for clarity in your writing.
While a simple piece of punctuation like the comma may seem totally insignificant, it can completely change the meaning of a sentence.
“I already ate, Grandma” quickly becomes “I already ate Grandma” when you remove the comma. Quickly you’ve gone from declining a meal from your loving old relative, to eating your loving old relative! Oh no!
The Oxford Comma is very important, though I’m sure some may argue with us about this, as it is almost imperative in some situations. This little piece of punctuation also goes by the name “serial comma,” and is the comma placed before conjunctions such as “and” and “or” in a list such as “I bought a magazine, gum, and a soda.”
Here are the five reasons why I love the Oxford Comma:
- It prevents misinterpretation.
Like our example before, it can change the meaning of a sentence entirely.
“I love my husband, the writer and the entrepreneur.” This means that I love my husband, who is a writer and entrepreneur. This is easily transformed into “I love my husband, the writer, and the entrepreneur” by adding a comma. By adding the Oxford Comma, the meaning of the sentence is changed. I am now saying that I love my husband, but I also love the writer and the entrepreneur as well. With the help of that tiny piece of punctuation, I’ve somehow gone from loving just my husband to loving three people!
2. It can be optional in some situations.
While many things in grammar and the English language are necessary and strict, the Oxford Comma is optional. This does cause some scuffles and debates among English writers and grammarians, but it also leaves a bit of space for creativity and choice for writers.
The Oxford Comma can be used as an artistic choice for writers in their works, whether these works be of poetry, long exposition, or otherwise.
3. It’s famous.
The Oxford Comma is also famous for how very controversial it is among the English community. Depending on where you are on Earth, you may be for or against the Oxford Comma.
In the USA we seem to be very pro-Oxford, while in England and Australia they are very anti-Oxford.
4. It has a pretty interesting history.
It is kind of unclear who we can thank for the Oxford Comma. It was introduced originally in the 15th century by an Italian printer, reintroduced by the Oxford Press in the late 1800s, written about by F. Howard Collins, then later brought into the norm by Peter Sutcliff. It is Sutcliff to whom we owe the name “Oxford” as he wrote about its usage in the Oxford University Press in 1978. The Victorian-era man who brought us “survival of the fittest,” Herbert Spencer, is often given credit for the introduction of the Oxford Comma as well.
Just as whether or not to use the Oxford Comma is disputed, so is where it came from! So not only did it start a dispute among many grammarians around the world, but it also seems that our friend the Oxford Comma is responsible for a lot of historical arguments as well.
5. It is easy to use.
A lot of grammatical rules can be a little bit complicated, and slip-ups occur all the time. While its historical background is quite complex, the Oxford Comma is generally pretty straightforward in how it can be used, especially in comparison to some other punctuation marks (I’m looking at you, semicolon). The Oxford Comma just makes our writing lives easier.
The Oxford Comma helps clarify your meaning, is easy to use, and has a reputation for its ability to save or cost you millions of dollars — depending on which side you choose! What’s not to LOVE about it?