Who knew that commas had names? Take the Oxford comma, for example. It’s a swanky term for a serial comma, that is, the use of two commas in a series instead of one. For example, I bought bread, cheese, and eggs. The Oxford comma is the one before the last element in a series.
OK. So what’s the big fuss? It’s just a teensy-weensy bit of punctuation. How important could this argument be? Very if you want your meaning to be unambiguous. Consider these examples that leave out the Oxford comma.
She invited her grouchy coworkers, Stella and Ivan.
She invited her grouchy coworkers, Stella, and Ivan.
If Stella and Ivan are unpleasant coworkers, then go with #1. But if she invited some grouchy coworkers along with Stella and Ivan, then #2, with the Oxford comma, is your go-to punctuation. In sum, it can change the meaning of a sentence.
Why doesn’t everyone use that serial comma? Newspapers and magazines don’t use because they need to save space. Others think it slows the paragraph down.
If want to avoid the problem, rewrite the sentence: She invited Stella and Ivan, along with her grouch coworkers. Voilà! The ambiguity is solved.
Too persnickety for you? Then consider the $10 million court case that hinged on this very topic. Not so funny anymore, is it?
If you have questions about the Oxford comma, or any other punctuation mark, call us at 425.485.3221 to improve all your business communication.