The Oxford (or Harvard) Comma

by Dr Davis on February 7, 2008

A wonderful article discussing the need for the comma when a series is being written. A lovely piece. And it is quite readable, too, even for non-English teachers.

Very funny.

it looks like any ordinary comma, and, for the most part, acts like any ordinary comma, except that this comma, plain as it is, does something extraordinary–it guards against the ridiculous.

Commas, much like insults from your significant other’s father, should, if you’re paying attention, give pause. And in doing so, they, by their very design, separate. (My hope is that you’re getting the gist of that as you read this comma-saturated discourse.) The Oxford Comma, specifically, is used before the last item in a series to both separate (thereby denoting equality within the list of items) and to remove ambiguity in the author’s meaning caused by mis-grouped words (eat, cow, and pie, vs. eat cow pie).

Some of your teachers in the past may have told you that the commas separating things in a series simply take the place of all those ands.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lee Martin 10.13.11 at 8:21 am

Hear, hear!
Lee

2 JpnTchr 10.27.11 at 4:52 pm

I recently had to defend the Oxford comma at work in the English department of the University where I teach.
This site helped to explain the need for it since I was writing a professional letter of recommendation.

Thanks!

3 melinda 03.15.12 at 8:23 am

Loved it so much, I’ve copied it, blown it up, and hung it in my classroom. Yes, I did credit the source. Thanks Dr. Davis.

4 Nancy Calonge 03.22.12 at 9:34 am

Amen. The little comma helps avoid going from the sublime to the ridiculous.

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