Don’t give a damn about the Oxford comma? Perhaps you should.

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning and took out a comma.” “And in the afternoon?” “In the afternoon–well, I put it back again.” - Oscar Wilde

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning and took out a comma.” “And in the afternoon?” “In the afternoon–well, I put it back again.” - Oscar Wilde

We use the Oxford (or serial) comma in a list of at least three things.

Don’t give me your excuses, cries, or frumpy faces.

We place the Oxford comma after cries.

Sometimes, using the Oxford comma is a matter of taste, one that we find in some style guides.  If we used AP Style, which does not require that we use the Oxford comma, we would get the following:

Don’t give me your excuses, cries or frumpy faces.

Although it generally doesn’t matter whether you use the Oxford comma, sometimes not using it can confuse things:

I enjoy time with my friends, Mr. Rogers and Dr. Who.

We can read this sentence as saying that I enjoy three things, my friends, Mr. Rogers, and Dr. Who OR one thing, my friends, who happen to be Mr. Rogers and Dr. Who.

With the Oxford comma, we can only read the sentence as a series of three things:

I enjoy time with my friends, Mr. Rogers, and Dr. Who.

Some suggest that there’s another way to write this sentence, with equal clarity and without the Oxford comma:

I enjoy Mr. Rogers, Dr. Who and time with my friends.

This works because we would never suppose that Mr. Rogers could be renamed as ‘Dr. Who and time with my friends,’ while we could rename my friends as ‘Mr. Rogers and Dr. Who.’

What do you think?  Leave a comment telling us what you think about this devilish little punctilio!

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