The Great Oxford Comma Debate


I read this article today about the Oxford Comma debate, and found it fascinating:


The examples they give, pro and con, are really interesting; I haven't had a chance to consider which side of this debate I'd come down on but I thought others might be interested, and have some comments.  I'd certainly be interested to hear them.

asked Feb 01 '13 at 08:06 Shawn Mooney Expert

5 answers


I am pro Oxford Comma. I make no excuses for it.

link comment answered Feb 01 '13 at 10:30 Tony Proano Expert

My name is Lewis, and I, too, am an Oxford comma user. I even call it the Harvard comma at times.


Hi, Lewis


Hi, everybody.

link comment answered Feb 01 '13 at 12:10 Lewis Neidhardt Grammarly Fellow

I am not sure that, unless an example sentence is truly archaic, anything of importance is disproven based on when it was written.


My preliminary thought about the examples cited for the con side is that they all combine proper nouns and common nouns in their lists.  I can totally understand how the presence or absence of a comma could be ambiguous in those cases.  But I am not convinced that the ambiguity could not fairly easily be resolved by using only proper or common nouns in those lists or removing the comma before the proper nouns.  What do you think?


For example, instead of saying I went to the party with my colleague, my friend, James[,] and Bob, would it not be unambiguous to use everyone's names?  I went to the party with Roberta, Mary, James[,] and Bob?  That solution sounds relatively simple. It eliminates the ambiguity about whether my friend is James, or my friend and James are two separate people.  Doesn't it?  For me, another solution is to remove the comma before James -- I went to the party with my colleague, my friend James[,] and Bob. In that case, regardless of whether the Oxford comma is used, everyone can understand that my friend James is one person, not two, right?  Is this a modern innovation in punctuation, or something distinguishable only for Canadians?


I might also rephrase it to say I went to the party with four people: my colleague, my friend, James[,] and Bob. In that case, the presence or absence of the Oxford Comma is not so important, is it?


I hope to see more discussion on this topic; at the very least, I welcome detailed discussion with many work-arounds and examples that demonstrate why this issue is superfluous, so I can brain-feed off you and refine my thinking on this interesting topic.  Punctuate me, baby!



link edited Feb 01 '13 at 16:37 Shawn Mooney Expert

I don't think anything is disproven by when it as written either. I just found it interesting that the writer didn't find or choose a more current argument.

Patty TFeb 01 '13 at 21:14

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I too am a firm proponent of the Oxford comma. I believe that omitting the comma imprperly results in a lack of clarity. The omission must be willful and carry the intended meaning. Construction case law, at least in California, supports my position. When the comma is left out, you have a list of two items, one of which is a compound. With the comma, you have three (or more) items. Since many millions of dollars are a stake in these cases (and my E&O insurances doesn't go that high), I will always use the Oxford comma.


Each of the cons presented occured when an appositive or parenthetical is introduced into the list. The Chicago manual has a solution -- the semicolon.


A, who is tall; B, who is short; and C went to the beach.

link comment answered Feb 01 '13 at 20:55 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

I am also in favor of the Oxford Comma.  I noticed that all of the con arguments are over fifty years old.

link comment answered Feb 01 '13 at 13:49 Patty T Grammarly Fellow

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