North Texas Daily

The Oxford comma is a piece of punctuation perfection

The Oxford comma is a piece of punctuation perfection

The Oxford comma is a piece of punctuation perfection
February 05
12:00 2022

As students are returning to campus for the spring 2022 semester, the debate on the use of the Oxford comma is making a comeback as well. Whether you’re asking a newly minted English major or a thoroughly experienced business professor, you’re sure to have strong opinions on the matter from any individual you’re questioning. As you are reading through this article, ask yourself – are you an Oxford comma advocate, or are you in opposition of its use?

The Oxford comma is a little punctuation gem that can be used when listing a series of things in a sentence. It comes right before the conjunction in a sentence. Some individuals know to eliminate the extra comma because it can be categorized as incorrect and viewed as hyper-specific. However, others value the presence of the comma as it is known to provide clarity and improve a sentence’s flow to be more natural, replicating how it would sound if it were read aloud. 

Let me present you with a scenario: you are going to the store for your roommate and they told you they need “2 percent milk, green grapes and bread.” It is clear that they need 2 percent milk and green grapes, but does the bread need to be green as well? This grocery list lacks the Oxford comma before the conjunction, “and,” which is where the confusion about the potential green bread originates. Clearly, green bread is not a thing (unless it has been on the shelf far too long), but how are you supposed to know since your roommate left out the Oxford comma?

Employment of the Oxford comma is the correct choice in every punctuation-related situation, as it automatically helps a writer to be ultra-specific when listing items and smooths out the flow of an awkward or clunky sentence. Who wouldn’t want to use the Oxford comma and therefore have these positive attributes incorporated into their writing? 

Oxford Royale Academy, an award-winning education provider, has an article outlining the arguments for and against the Oxford comma.  The Oxford comma should not be used for several reasons, according to the article. It highlights that the conjunction alone serves as a separation of two things in a list, thus accurately proving the Oxford comma obsolete. This is suggesting that rather than incorporating extra commas to eliminate ambiguity for the reader, the writer should instead rephrase a sentence themselves to flow more easily. While these ideas do support the technicalities behind grammar and punctuation, terminating the use of the Oxford comma can make a sentence’s content unclear and can change a writer’s intention behind their words.

The Oxford comma is also notoriously omitted in several news publications, but why is that? The Associated Press Stylebook, which might as well be a journalist’s Bible, deems the Oxford comma unnecessary unless excluding the comma would confuse readers. In that case, news outlets should always use the Oxford comma to avoid misinterpretation of their articles and maintain their reputation. 

All of this being said, this story does not use the Oxford comma at all due to guidelines set in place by the Daily. We do traditionally follow AP Style, but this is one of our hard rules that has been in place for a long time. All of our reporters must follow this rule to maintain uniformity throughout our articles and across all sections of the paper. 

Despite one little mark seeming insignificant to the main idea of your writing (after all, it is just one little curve separating two words), it can influence the entire meaning and flow of a sentence, which runs the risk of negatively impacting your work. 

So the next time you’re writing anything — an article, an essay or even a grocery list — make sure you’re double-checking your work and including that invaluable little comma. Otherwise, it might find itself getting quite lonely being left out of your writing.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Natalie VanDerWal

Natalie VanDerWal

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