The “Oxford comma”

9 Jul

Following my blog on “Plurals, possessives and the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’”, one of my followers (probably tongue-in-cheek) suggested I write about the “Oxford comma”. I confess I had to look it up.

According to Oxford Dictionaries Online the Oxford comma
“…is an optional comma before the word ‘and’…It was traditionally used by printers, readers and editors at Oxford University Press. Not all writers and publishers use it, but it can clarify the meaning of a sentence when the items in a list are not single words:
“The items are available in black and white, red and yellow, and blue and green.”

I was taught at school never to put a comma before “and”, but since the purpose of all punctuation is to clarify the meaning of a sentence, I am a frequent user of the Oxford comma.

Look at the following bits of business-speak:

“Our business made good sales and progress and profits increased substantially.” A comma before the second “and”  (“Our business made good sales and progress, and profits increased substantially”) makes the meaning clear immediately.

“We enable manufacturers to test their products, to improve their quality, and to reduce their development time, and also enable them to tailor their products to meet individual needs.” Without the Oxford commas, this sentence would be unintelligible.

Think about what you want to write, read it carefully, and add commas – Oxford or otherwise – to make it readable. Although George Bernard Shaw said, “The Golden Rule is that there are no golden rules”, I think there is one here: it should never be necessary to read a sentence twice to understand it.

Today’s picture

It’s still raining. The only upside is that I don’t have to remember to water the garden, but we would love to see some blue sky. It was cold in Tibet, but the sky was an intense blue. This is me – as close to heaven as I’ll ever get – standing above the Ganden Monastery, outside Lhasa, at about the same altitude as Everest base camp.




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