The English language is full of idiosyncrasies and exceptions to rules. As a former English teacher who taught at Oxford English Academy in Cape Town, I often used to face frustrated students who would get upset by the seemingly random rules of English. As I mentioned in a previous post, grammar doesn’t need to bring you down or turn you off English. The best thing to do is to embrace the craziness and to have a laugh. One of my favourite grammar ‘rules’ is the Oxford comma because the amount of debate it inspires, is enough to make me giggle every time.
According to Wikipedia , the Oxford or Serial Comma “is a comma placed immediately before the coordinating conjunction (usually and or or) in a series of three or more terms”. A very simple example of this is: Today I ate eggs, bacon, and toast for breakfast. The Oxford comma is the comma that appears after ‘bacon’. Seems simple enough, right? You may be required to use it or you may prefer not to. I’m not a big fan because I think the ‘and’ already shows that there is another item in the list. But the reason why the Oxford comma is so controversial is because it can really cause confusion and ambiguity and this is where the fun begins! Below are some hilarious examples that will leave you reeling!
Examples of why you should use the Oxford comma:
“I would like to thank my parents, Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson”. In this sentence is seems like the parents of the speaker are Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson, which is unlikely. By using the Oxford comma, it will make more sense. “I want to thank my parents, Marilyn Monroe, and Michael Jackson”. Now they seem like four different people.
Examples of why you shouldn’t use the Oxford comma:
“I would like to dedicate this book to my mother, John Smith, and my sister”. In this sentence it seems like the mother’s name is John Smith, which is once again unlikely. It will make the sentence much clearer to rather write it without the Oxford comma.
There are so many arguments for and against the Oxford comma. My advice is to pick a side and to then defend it. Just be sure that someone is bound to have an opposing opinion. Happy arguing!