The Kirkwood Call

In defense of the Oxford comma

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In defense of the Oxford comma

"Writing sentences that confuse people is generally not the goal of writing. "

Mary Grace Heartlein

"Writing sentences that confuse people is generally not the goal of writing. "

Mary Grace Heartlein

Mary Grace Heartlein

"Writing sentences that confuse people is generally not the goal of writing. "

Annie O'Brien, health and wellness editor

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It shows up in elementary school classrooms, in books, and on the reading and English sections of the ACT. Among the publications that dislike it are The New York Times, Time Magazine, and The Kirkwood Call. The Oxford comma is a hotly disputed topic in the world of journalism and writing. But the truth of the matter is that anyone who is against the Oxford comma is against making sense.

Let’s pause for a little grammar lesson. The Oxford, or serial comma, is the last comma before “and” in a list. For example, in the sentence “I went to the store to buy eggs, milk, and flour,” the comma after “milk” is a serial comma. It is generally taught in elementary and middle school classrooms as the preferred option for punctuation. Use it and provide clarity. Omit it and cause confusion.

TKC conforms to a rigid set of grammatical rules called Associated Press (AP) style. AP style is against the use of the Oxford comma unless a list item has its own comma or its own conjunction. But this rule is inconsistent and dumb. And it is also just rude. Not using the Oxford comma is a mistake, both grammatically and morally.

Using the Oxford comma makes you more intelligent, especially because with it you can actually write coherent sentences. Commas should separate list items. Not just some of the list items, but all of them. If you get rid of the Oxford comma, some words are left without a comma of their own. How come milk doesn’t get its own comma? What did the last word in a list do to deserve this injustice?

In addition, your message could be unclear if you are not careful and consistent with your punctuation. Take this sentence for example: “I went to church with my parents, Carl and Mark.” Are your parents named Carl and Mark? Or are Carl and Mark two different people who aren’t related to you? If you would have used the Oxford comma, it would have been a simple solution. But now your reader has no idea what is going on with your parental figures.

Writing sentences that confuse people is generally not the goal of writing. And while you’re making people question the meaning of your sentence you can throw some accidental shade as well. If you had a list of “the morons, Lincoln and Gandhi,” you have just insulted two great leaders whom you probably never intended to insult. You should have just used that extra comma.

If you had never even heard of the Oxford comma before reading this story, you still have a chance to redeem yourself. You can still help this oft forgotten piece of punctuation come into the limelight. You still have the power to use it and write things that actually make sense. This is a call to action, a call to use the Oxford comma, and a call to be an intelligent human being.

About the Contributors
Annie O'Brien, health and wellness editor



Interests: Writing, reading, grammar, slam poetry, Harry Potter, musicals, theater, learning about mental health, and learning new words

Favorite...

Mary Grace Heartlein, staff artist

Interests: art... and art!
Favorite food: french fries
Favorite quote:“sometimes i’ll start a sentence and i don’t even know where it’s going....

1 Comment

One Response to “In defense of the Oxford comma”

  1. Lucas McCue on March 25th, 2019 3:34 pm

    First, congratulations on appearing fourth on my Google search for “AP style oxford comma 2019.” You’ve hit the big time, as far as searches regarding the serial comma go.

    Second, I wish to respectfully counter your argument and suggest that commas, or lack thereof, do not make sentences confusing; writers do. Don’t blame the absent comma. What if Carl and Mark aren’t your parents? What if some other folks came to church, too? Just rewrite the sentence to read “I went to church with Carl, Mark, Carl Marx and my parents.”

    Got a long list of items with proper nouns or titles that contain their own conjunctions? Eschew commas altogether and toss some semicolons in there.

    Semicolons are cool.

    A wonderful article, nonetheless. Made me happy to read it.

    Thank you,
    Lucas McCue
    KHS Alumnus and Call Assistant Editorial Editor, 1989-90

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In defense of the Oxford comma