Monday, 4 March 2013

The Oxford Comma

Did you know that yesterday was National Grammar Day? Neither did I until I read it on the internet. The article concerned itself with the Oxford Comma: the one that can be used – or not used – after the ‘and’ at the end of a list. It’s a matter of whether you write: “Fish, chips, and peas,” or “Fish, chips and peas.” That last comma – so we’re told – is the Oxford Comma, traditionally used by the Oxford University Press. It’s an element of grammar that some people use while others don’t. And therein lies the problem. Who is right?

Personally, I choose not use it. The grammar that bugs me most is the Grocer’s Apostrophe. That’s the one that tells you “Apple’s and Pear’s” are on display. It also tells you, “Your fired.” It’s the apostrophe that gets in where it shouldn’t and gets missed out where it should appear. Why do so many people get it wrong?

Then again, am I wrong to be pedantic about the Grocer’s Apostrophe while being complacent about the Oxford Comma?


  1. With reference to the Oxford comma, I think it depends. If when reading your sentence out you feel you need a pause there, then put one in. Otherwise leave it out. At least, I take it as an optional punctuation mark.

    And I get equally as irritated by misuse of apostrophes. Have you read Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss?

  2. I too cringe at the misuse of the apostrophe. Those of us who are pedantic about punctuation find it so easy don't we? Over years of teaching, I devised many tricks which I hoped would bring about the lightbulb moment. I loved the student(s) who said 'I get it'. The comment by womagwriter prompted me to find Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves on my bookshelf and revisit it. The title is an example of how incorrect punctuation can change meaning. A panda eats shoots and leaves. Simple. The bamboo shoots and leaves are the panda's diet. BUT Eats, shoots and leaves conjures a picture of someone eating in a crummy restaurant, shooting the chef and leaving the building. And all this because of a comma!
    This debate has prompted me to start some more on my own wordpress blog which has been neglected for too long. I hope you will follow me. I have many pet hates and examples to share.

    1. Yes, I have Lynn Truss's book. An essential to any writer's bookshelf. I also acknowledge David Crystal's assertion that language and grammar are constantly changing. But my belief is that change should reflect progress, not backward steps. I checked out your website and liked the "deaf" comments. My hearing is showing distinct signs of age deterioration.