Sunday, 8 September 2013

Oxford Comma: The 'Optional' One

I’m fond of this piece of punctuation despite it being entirely optional. It takes the name of my hometown, and likeness breeds attraction and all. Not that I’m attracted to a comma... 

Anyway, the Oxford comma is placed before the ‘and’ which introduces the last item of a list. In the following example, I’ve placed it in brackets:

I saw a squirrel, a penguin[,] and a camel in the zoo.

As you can see, the comma doesn’t make much of a difference to the example above. The reason I still opt in isn’t because of sentences like that. The Oxford comma is useful when the list is a little more complicated because it groups together the second to last item and separates it from the last. If you still use it when it’s not necessary, I like to think it still has a subconscious consistency effect on readers. It feels neater too, but then we know I’m biased.

Take a look at this example too:

I saw a squirrel with a nut, a penguin and an iceberg, and a camel in the zoo.

The comma separates the penguin and it’s iceberg from the camel, suggesting they’re in different areas of this zoo. Without it, the list falls apart. Alternatively, you may want to use a colon and semicolon combination or even writing it in a way that flows better. That’s ok too, but if your heart is set on a list structure which only has three items, then you’d probably be better off using my little friend here.

So what do you think? Is it worth including, or is it just an old rule that can be ignored?

And finally, some relevant Vampire weekend: