The spelling of words has changed greatly over the years, but does that mean that grammar should also change? Doesn’t that make it even harder for children to learn to write properly? One grammatical change that is causing a stir is the retiring of the Oxford comma. What is the Oxford comma and should we really get rid of it or not?
What Is the Oxford Comma?
The Oxford comma was originally used by the Oxford University Press. Otherwise known as the serial comma, it is used before the last item in a list. For example, “The buffet had steak, chicken, and shrimp.” While the Oxford comma is said to be optional, there are times when it clarifies a list of items that aren’t singular. For example, “Her closet includes black and white, green and pink, and yellow and purple shirts.” If you were to leave out the Oxford comma it would appear that some shirts were green and pink AND yellow and purple.
Why Do People Want to Get Rid of It?
Some publishing companies are choosing to discontinue use of the Oxford comma. Companies like Demand Media have guidelines that discourage its use. During a huge media hoax in December, it was thought that the Oxford University wanted to stop use of the serial comma. However, a tweet from Oxford University Press stated that, “The Oxford comma is alive and well at Oxford University Press.” Yet, there has been information released from the university’s branding toolkit that states they don’t want the PR department to use it. Should we use the Oxford comma in our daily writing, or not?
Why We Need It
While those in the UK, Australia, and South Africa choose not to use the Oxford comma, there are reasons to use it. Let’s look at the following example: “There were sandwiches available in chicken, pork, roast beef and bacon.” Without the Oxford comma, we are led to believe that there are three sandwich choices, but see how the sentence changes with the comma. “There were sandwiches in chicken, pork, roast beef, and bacon.” Another example would be the characters included in a story. “The story was about a doctor, teacher, therapist and gigolo.” Without the Oxford comma we are left questioning whether there are four people or if the therapist is also a gigolo.
While optional, it’s clear to see why we need the Oxford comma. Without placing a comma before the last item in a list, it can make the story confusing. While it may be optional, it’s not unnecessary. The Oxford comma serves to make our writing more legible and less confusing.
About the Author: Gricelda Spivack loves to study grammar and punctuation and is currently teaching 5th graders. Her children visit a San Diego math tutor regularly for help and advanced work.