Published - Mon, 06-Feb-2023
Oxford commas have brought heated debates throughout modern English history, yet we have to reach absolution regarding whether the comma is correct. In this article, we are not going to say whether using the comma is right (or are we?). Instead, we're just going to see what the Oxford comma is all about.
So, what exactly is the Oxford Comma?
Oxford comma, or the serial comma, is a comma used after the second item in a list of three or more, before the word "and" or "or". This comma was first used by Oxford University Press, hence the name.
Using the Oxford comma, however, is a matter of subjective preference. It depends on the region as well. For example, American English almost always recommends using it. However, English writing styles in Canada or the UK may advise against it.
In my personal opinion, Oxford commas should be used in sentences that may create ambiguity.
Let's see where we actually have to use the Oxford comma with some interesting examples.
Oxford Comma and the Ambiguity
What is ambiguity you may ask? Ambiguity represents that a word or a sentence may possess more than one meaning to it. Since the Oxford comma deals with the ambiguity related to the items listed in a series of three or more, let's take two such examples.
1. The office hires software engineers, artists, and salesmen.
Here, the comma between "artists" and "and salesmen" is the Oxford comma. However, if I remove it from this sentence, the meaning does not change at all. Look!
The office hires software engineers, artists and salesmen. Since software engineers and artists are two completely different words, it does not create ambiguity. So, in this case, the Oxford comma is optional or redundant.
Let's take another example!
2. He gave his speech to the audience, cats, and dogs.
You can already see the Oxford comma here, can't you? Good! Now, what if I remove it? The sentence will read like this.
He gave his speech to the audience, cats and dogs.
The removal of the Oxford comma creates a funny example of our speaker giving a speech solely to cats and dogs. Adding the comma there will separate the audience as its own element, stating the audience may consist of other people along with some cats and dogs.
Of course, the sentence itself isn't as clear as the "audience" isn't properly defined. But hey! At least it's not cats and dogs only. See how the meaning changes?
Let's see a few more examples where the comma would definitely be necessary to separate three or more items in a series clearly.
a. Ms Sarita is working on two projects, designing the brochure, and preparing a speech.
b. He went there with his parents, Rahul, and Anuja.
The universal agreement on the Oxford comma usage remains to be seen. However, objectively speaking, it is up to you to subjectively use the comma as you see fit. As you have seen above, the comma isn't distinguished and isn't necessary either.
So what does that tell us about the Oxford comma? Use it wisely as you see fit in a sentence. If you personally think not using the comma would cause confusion, do use it. However, be aware of which language rules or writing styles you are following. Because as mentioned earlier, some writing style guides strictly forbid the use.
However, writing is an individual task and a writing style has its own individuality. So, whether you should use the comma? I'll leave it to your best judgement.
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