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Why use the Oxford Comma?

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

There's an interesting discussion on Quora about the Oxford comma. Here's my favorite response (con Oxford):

1) "Who gives a Fuck about the Oxford Comma?"

That is a song, but it says things pretty accurately

2) It is a piece of punctuation. It does not have any intrinsic value: it is not content or art.

3) It is a piece of punctuation: it has usage purely through convention.

4) And in this case there are two, equally valid and equally widely adopted conventions.

This is much like arguing about whether to eat an egg from the big end or the little end (Jonathan Swift) or whether "colour" is better than "color"

America (in general) uses it; Britain and other English language in general do not (or, rather, only use it if the sentence would be ambiguous). Journalists in general do not (even American ones); academics (especially American ones), generally do. Amongst(**) British academics there is a slight Oxford (do) / Cambridge (do not) divide.

5) Deliberate sentences to show "look it is ambiguous" are a stupid exercise at the best of times. Anyone can write sentences that are ambiguous, and if you really want to do so then a piece of punctuation is not a panacea. The skill in writing is to communicate clearly and unambiguously: you can do that with or without Oxford Commas. If something is ambiguous, then use it. Otherwise, do not.

6) And along those lines for everyone who has wasted brain cycles on an ambiguous sentence that needs an Oxford Comma there is a counterpoint where adding that comma only adds ambiguity. As I said, a stupid exercise.

7) Personally, I follow The Economist Style Guide:

Do not put a comma before and at the end of a sequence of items unless one of the items includes another and.

Thus The doctor suggested an aspirin, half a grapefruit and a cup of broth.

But he ordered scrambled eggs, whisky and soda, and a selection from the trolley.

8) But The Times, The Guardian, Oxford University Style Guide (*), The New York Times and AP Style Guide all say the same thing:

The Times style manual: "Avoid the so-called Oxford comma; say "he ate bread, butter and jam" rather than "he ate bread, butter, and jam"."

The New York Times stylebook: "In general, do not use a comma before and or or in a series."

(*) As opposed to Oxford University Press which does insist on it and where the name comes from

(**) To use another thing with British / American division.

awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

I've just written a sentence containing several exclusion criteria and it occurred to me that I'd just used the equivalent of an Oxford Comma for an 'or' rather than an 'and'. Is the Oxford Comma limited to 'and'? Its alternative name, the Serial Comma, suggests not, and the quote from the New York Times Stylebook agrees.

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play  REP
Ross at Play
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

Is the Oxford Comma limited to 'and'? Its alternative name, the Serial Comma, suggests not, and the quote from the New York Times Stylebook agrees.

No! The standard form Serial Comma allows the conjunction after the last comma in a list to be 'and' or any of the BOYFANS. The BOYFANS, but not 'and', may appear after any earlier commas too.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Capt. Zapp

Why use the Oxford Comma?

Because I want to.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

'and' or any of the BOYFANS


You had me fooled - I guessed what every letter stood for except the A because I couldn't think of anything other than 'and'. ;)

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


8) But The Times, The Guardian, Oxford University Style Guide (*), The New York Times and AP Style Guide all say the same thing:


Keep in mind why journalist companies (the AP Style Guide being the basic one for journalists when their company doesn't have their own, like the NYT) eliminate the Oxford comma. It's the same reason they'll write "12-year-old" rather than "twelve-year-old." It has nothing to do with which is clearer. It's all about saving the print character.

So if you are concerned with the length of your story, leave the Oxford comma out. If you are not and want clarity, put it in.

Ross at Play

My anecdotal evidence supporting your claim the Serial Comma is not necessary for good and unambiguous writing is that for many years the only printed news I regularly read is The Economist. I am a devotee of the Serial Comma, but never noticed they do not use them.
* * *
Still, I discount what printed publications may do, where space may be a critical consideration, as a recommendation not using them is better.
* * *
As I reader I find comfort in knowing a writer is using Serial Commas. Once I know I have entered a list I know:
* If I encounter a conjunction not preceded by a comma it is introducing another fact about the current element in the list,
* If I encounter a comma it indicates the end of the current element in the list and the start of another,
* If I do not encounter a conjunction after a comma there are at least two more items in the list.
* * *
With Serials Commas for a simple list - red, white, and blue - I know when I read 'and' the first two elements of the list were 'red' and 'white', and I am about the read the third and final element of the list.
If that is written as - red, white and blue - I do not know when I read 'and' whether 'white' was the second element of the list and what follows is the last element, or whether the second element is 'white' and something else.
* * *
THAT is one very good reason WHY many of us prefer them.
I trust you will stop suggesting we are inflicting extra commas on readers without some clear benefit - which is not the same thing as saying a choice by others to not use them is wrong.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptM7FzyjtRk

Grammar's great divide: The Oxford comma - TED-Ed

Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

You had me fooled - I guessed what every letter stood for except the A because I couldn't think of anything other than 'and'. ;)

The Coordinating Conjunctions are 'and' and BOYFANS (plus others that mean the same).
BOYFANS = but, or, yet, for, AS, nor, so.
Note all have either two or three letters.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Crumbly Writer

@Capt. Zapp

Why use the Oxford Comma?

Because I want to.

A perfectly acceptable reason. One the author highlights is not a cause to denegate the other side. (Note: The entry, just before the one I posted lists the Oxford comma, shows just how judgmental opinions on the topic can get:

The best reason for dropping the Oxford comma, as near as I can tell, is that you are a soulless monster bent on the destruction of all that is good, wise, and just in this world. Only such a demon from the third-darkest pits of Hell, motivated by the most vile sort of indecency conceived in the blackest of hearts, would wish such a thing upon mankind.

The Oxford comma represents humanity's best attempt at imposing order and reason on a fundamentally disordered cosmos. It is the soaring triumph of literary achievement, and the desire to be rid of it is manifestly incompatible with decency and goodness.

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

BOYFANS

We have seven coordinating conjunctions, and you can remember them by referring to the acronym BOYFANS.
B O Y F A N S
But Or Yet For And Nor So

http://www.grammar.com/1-coordinating-conjunctions/

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

So if you are concerned with the length of your story, leave the Oxford comma out. If you are not and want clarity, put it in.

The space of a comma is unlikely to increase anyone's page count totals. Margin control is a much better size limiter, along with font size, than something that insignificant. Besides, many newspaper sales nowadays on electronic.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I trust you will stop suggesting we are inflicting extra commas on readers without some clear benefit - which is not the same thing as saying a choice by others to not use them is wrong.

The debate basically boils down to: "American English is going to destroy English as we know it!" We (those of us here on the Author forum) have long held that either comma policy is valid, as long as you're consistent in it's use.

Replies:   Ross at Play  sejintenej
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

If you are not and want clarity, put it in.

I think you went a tad too far with that.
I would say:
If you are not and want your routine style to guarantee clarity, put it in. If you are prepared to go on checking complex sentences for clarity, it is possible.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

ME : I trust you will stop suggesting we are inflicting extra commas on readers without some clear benefit - which is not the same thing as saying a choice by others to not use them is wrong.

YOU: The debate basically boils down to: "American English is going to destroy English as we know it!" We (those of us here on the Author forum) have long held that either comma policy is valid, as long as you're consistent in it's use.

WHAT THE FUCK !!!
WHAT THE FUCK !!!
WHAT THE FUCK !!!
* * *
You posted : American English is going to destroy English as we know it!
REALLY, YOU JUST PULLED THAT ONE OUT OF YOUR ARSE !!!
* * *
You posted : either comma policy is valid, as long as you're consistent
THAT'S IS EXACTLY WHAT I FUCKING WELL TOOK GREAT PAINS TO SAY I ACCEPTED
* * *
YOU INSINUATED THERE ARE NO VALID REASONS FOR OTHERS TO PREFER - THAT IS COMPLETE AND UTTER BULLSHIT.
I EXPLAINED REASONS FOR MY PREFERENCE.
I EXPLAINED REASONS FOR NOT OBJECTING TO YOUR PREFERENCE.
* * *
PLEASE STOP CREATING ARGUMENTS JUST FOR THE SAKE OF CREATING AN ARGUMENT.

Ernest Bywater

The real reason for using the Oxford Commer is the van carries a hell of a lot more beer bottles than the little car does.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commer

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


The space of a comma is unlikely to increase anyone's page count totals. Margin control is a much better size limiter, along with font size, than something that insignificant. Besides, many newspaper sales nowadays on electronic.


The style guides go way back when everything was print. Every space on the printed page costs money so they reduce as much as they can.

I was being facetious about a story being too large.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

Decaf :)

Replies:   Ross at Play
sejintenej
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Ross at Play

I trust you will stop suggesting we are inflicting extra commas on readers without some clear benefit - which is not the same thing as saying a choice by others to not use them is wrong.

The debate basically boils down to: "American English is going to destroy English as we know it!" We (those of us here on the Author forum) have long held that either comma policy is valid, as long as you're consistent in it's use.


If American English will destroy British English let us see what that icon of America - all 50 states - Readers Digest has to say:

Commas are used in list of more than two, but are optional before and and or

In British usage, the tendency nowadays is to omit the final comma. But where fine distinctions are essential - as in this book throughout - the final comma is retained to ensure that the last two items on the list are clearly distinguished.
The final comma is sometimes necessary to avoid ambiguity.

When referring to distances a comma is inserted (for thousands etc - my insert)when the distance is in Imperial measures but a space is used if the measurement is metric. The book also specifies those situations where long numbers do NOT have commas and those which do and those where the comma is optional.

Good to see that one USA publisher is coming back to UK English ;-)

Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

Decaf :)

HA! HA! HA!
* * *
Be grateful I gave up the booze!
* * *
It's a good thing it's not an issue I feel passionately about. :-)

Switch Blayde

@sejintenej

Good to see that one USA publisher is coming back to UK English ;-)


Readers Digest says in UK English it's omitted.

Then it says, "But where fine distinctions are essential - as in this book throughout - the final comma is retained to ensure that the last two items on the list are clearly distinguished." I bolded the part that says they use the comma.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Readers Digest says in UK English it's omitted.

They are wrong. This is not an American English vs British English thing; it's a 'What style guide do you use?' thing.
* * *
It was Trumply writer who first suggested AmE vs BrE.
Have I just created a new variation on Godwin's Law? ... "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Trump approaches 1"
* * *
There are variations across both America and Britain.
In America, the prevalence of Serial Commas is higher, I suspect because of the ubiquitous influence of one style guide, CMOS. However, some style guides, especially for newspapers do not have them.
In Britain, the prevalence of Serial Commas is lower, I suspect because more guides originated at a time when the cost of extras commas was significant, However, the Oxford University has insisted staff and students use them for a very long time.

awnlee_jawking

@sejintenej

In British usage, the tendency nowadays is to omit the final comma.


Are you suggesting that wasn't always so?

But where fine distinctions are essential - as in this book throughout - the final comma is retained to ensure that the last two items on the list are clearly distinguished.


Those against the Oxford Comma can produce examples where it creates ambiguity. Consequently I vary my usage dependent upon context - whatever it takes to show the intended meaning clearly.

AJ

Replies:   sejintenej
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

WHAT THE FUCK !!!

Ross, that response wasn't mine, though the wording was. I was encapsulating how the serial comma enthusiasts often portray the difference of opinion, blaming in on the language going to hell, rather than conceding it's possible to hold a separate position.

For me, I could give a flip how the hell you format serial lists (though using an interrobang is going a bit far). Did you read the response I included?

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Every space on the printed page costs money so they reduce as much as they can.

It wasn't so much the space on the printed page, but rather the manpower required to position the wood letter blocks to print a page (and the cost of replacing them). It's been kept in the modern era simply out of a sense of continuity with the past, rather than any real benefit. Hell, adding an extra space after the final stop takes a HELL of a lot more space!

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

Ross, that response wasn't mine ... I was encapsulating how the serial comma enthusiasts often portray the difference of opinion

OKAY !!!
* * *
This is what I saw, and my my reactions in italics!
* * *
A new thread, 'Why Use the Oxford Comma?'
Me: Oh, fuck! Not again!

'by Crumbly Writer'
Me: Double Fuck. I know he does not use them, while most of the rest do, but why is he initiating a new fight over this, now?

There's an interesting discussion on Quora about the Oxford comma.
Me: Not wasting my time going there.

I do NOT notice:
Here's my favorite response (con Oxford):

Me (thinking these were your arguments): This is a long list of irrelevant rubbish. What brought this shit on? I will answer the question literally, and politely.

7) Personally, I follow The Economist Style Guide:
Do not put a comma before and at the end of a sequence of items unless one of the items includes another and.
Me: Interesting. I read The Economist all the time and have never noticed they do not use them. To show my restraint I will begin by citing that as evidence good writing is possible without Serial Commas

* * * waiting for a response

You post a reply quoting this from my post

I trust you will stop suggesting we are inflicting extra commas on readers without some clear benefit - which is not the same thing as saying a choice by others to not use them is wrong

Okay. I simply asked him to stop implying we were all wrong, being careful to point out we do not say he is wrong – even though what we do is better, and we know why!

The debate basically boils down to: "American English is going to destroy English as we know it!"
Me (NOT realising you were describing their debate): WTF? WHAT did I do to deserve that! This sounds like he's accusing me, AGAIN, of taking one side in a debate because I'm an Australian. He does that too often, it's never true, and it pisses me off! … Didn't he just tell me he finished off one book? Is he lost for something interesting to do, and decided to do some shit-stirring because he's bored? I dived into something like that recently when my authors all got sick at once, and I lived to regret it.
* * *
I read the rest of your post, but these words do NOT get through to my consciousness!
We (those of us here on the Author forum) have long held that either comma policy is valid, as long as you're consistent in it's use.
* * *
Me: I will be as polite as possible in the circumstances. I'll use caps lock, but limit myself to about five fucks, and keep my tirade as short as possible.

In hindsight, likening you to Trump was a bit unfair, but I thought 'Trumply writer' was a cute way of suggesting you had misrepresented my words.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

Here's my sage advice on the subject - yeah it's a herbal answer:

Serial Comma

The use of the serial comma, often called the Oxford Comma, can lead to confusion. Also, not using the serial comma can cause confusion. The experts and public are in total disagreement on using it. The choice to use it or not is allowed by style guides and leave up to the writer. What they do say is to be consistent in it's use.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
richardshagrin

@Crumbly Writer

the serial comma enthusiasts

Use one when listing serial killers.

sejintenej

@awnlee_jawking

sejintenej

In British usage, the tendency nowadays is to omit the final comma.

Are you suggesting that wasn't always so?

That was a straight quote from Readers Digest

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@sejintenej

Sorry. My bad.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

What they do say is to be consistent in it's use.


And that's where I fail. I choose the one that's least ambiguous for the context. Except when it doesn't matter, when I tend to choose the option I was taught at school, and being British it wasn't the Serial Comma.

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

@EB What they do say is to be consistent in it's use.
@AJ And that's where I fail.

There was one gem among that stream of rubbish CW copied from another forum with his opening post for this thread.

7) Personally, I follow The Economist Style Guide:
Do not put a comma before and at the end of a sequence of items unless one of the items includes another 'and'.
Thus: The doctor suggested an aspirin, half a grapefruit and a cup of broth.
But : he ordered scrambled eggs, whisky and soda, and a selection from the trolley.

Note how the correct use of Non-Serial Commas ends up looking like a Serial Comma in the second example.
* * *
My gut feeling is you probably need to modify The Economist's rule so that you add the extra comma whenever an 'and' OR any BOYFANS appears in any of your elements of a list.
I think that will prevent most potential ambiguities, at least those of the type that probably have a name something like "syntactic ambiguities".
* * *
There is another class of ambiguities that approach will not prevent, I will call them "logical ambiguities" - when the first element of a list is a potential definition of the later elements in the list.
Only Serial Commas can prevent readers from wondering whether the speaker is claiming to be the half-brother of Jesus when they read a sentence like: "I want to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God."
* * *
Disclaimer. I have not analysed both styles carefully enough to be certain this advice is correct. The advice I can be certain is correct is this: Do ya'self a favour. Switch to Serial Commas!

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

I think that will prevent most potential ambiguities,


Always use the serial comma and you don't have to worry about ambiguities. It's that simple. Why fight it?

And, if you're not aware of it, when your American readers who use the serial comma read your sentence without it, they will automatically try to tie the last two items on both sides of the "and" together. So they'll stop reading to do that only to realize the writer doesn't use the serial comma.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

And, if you're not aware of it, when your American readers who use the serial comma read your sentence without it, they will automatically try to tie the last two items on both sides of the "and" together. So they'll stop reading to do that only to realize the writer doesn't use the serial comma.

Shush!
There are plenty enough of purely technical reasons to convince anyone willing to be converted of the merits favouring the change.
While your point is valid, and yet another strong reason writers (CW excepted) should make the change, 'satisfying mostly Americans' seems like the most counterproductive argument you could make for convincing writers to do something that really is in their best interests.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

Why fight it?

AJ's point was - been there, done lost.

My "advice" to AJ was only for how he might make the best of a bad situation.
My real advice was, "Do ya'self a favour. Switch Blayde to Serial Commas!"

REP

@awnlee jawking

Is the Oxford Comma limited to 'and'?


No! It is used before the coordinating conjunction that joins a series of three or more list items.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_comma

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

The advice I can be certain is correct is this: Do ya'self a favour. Switch to Serial Commas!


No. Serial Commas create their own slew of ambiguities.

AJ

Replies:   Switch Blayde  REP
Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

No. Serial Commas create their own slew of ambiguities.


Can you give me an example?

REP

@awnlee jawking

Serial Commas create their own slew of ambiguities.


I suspect that people who are not accustomed to them could have a problem understanding their use. For those of us accustomed to seeing them, we frequently find their omission confusing.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@REP

I suspect that people who are not accustomed to them could have a problem understanding their use


For people who don't use them, the extra comma seems odd, but it doesn't add to ambiguity when it's there.

Ernest Bywater

If the Oxford Comma isn't used you don't know, for sure, if the last two items in a list are two separate items or a compound pair. This is especially true when listing people. List Fred, Mary, John, Jim, Jack, and Joan it's clear each is an individual. But if the list is Fred, Mary, John, Jim, Jack and Joan you don't know if Jack and Joan are a couple or not.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

But if the list is Fred, Mary, John, Jim, Jack and Joan you don't know if Jack and Joan are a couple or not.


You don't know if they are a couple or not in either version. Even if they are a couple, they are still individual people.

Why would it be necessary, useful, and / or desirable to single Jack and Joan out as a couple in the list itself?

Ernest Bywater

@Dominions Son


You don't know if they are a couple or not in either version. Even if they are a couple, they are still individual people.


you could be listing pairs for a party or an activity. I simply used them to give an example of where the comma can give a different meaning. The Ted Ed video listed earlier in the discussion gives a good explanation of the Oxford comma.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

you could be listing pairs for a party or an activity.


Then I would expect the entire list to be couples and the serial comma still makes no difference.

I simply used them to give an example of where the comma can give a different meaning.


Except it doesn't give a different meaning in the example you chose. It makes no sense to list a bunch of individual people and then single the last pair out as a couple.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Dominions Son

It makes no sense to list a bunch of individual people and then single the last pair out as a couple.


The reason they would be singled out is solely because they aren't identified as individuals and compound nouns are joined with the word 'and' with no comma such as bow and arrow is a single compound noun - thus the lack of the comma implies a compound noun. A classic example of the difference punctuation with a comma makes is:

Help, police, murder - is clearly a call for the police to help you from being murdered.

Help, police murder - means the police are killing someone.

Help police murder - means you assist the police in killing someone.

slightly different situation, but the same principle.

Anyway, as I said earlier, it's the writer's choice which they use when. Just be aware it can cause confusion.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


The reason they would be singled out is solely because they aren't identified as individuals and compound nouns are joined with the word 'and' with no comma such as bow and arrow is a single compound noun - thus the lack of the comma implies a compound noun.


Not with people mentioned by individual name it does not.

The only time you have a compound noun with people is in a Mr and Mrs Smith type construction

Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

Why would it be necessary, useful, and / or desirable to single Jack and Joan out as a couple in the list itself?


It would be the writer's choice. Maybe the writer is listing the names of people coming, but also wanted to highlight Jack and Joan were a couple.

The point is, with the serial comma there is no ambiguity. Without it, the writer might have to insert it to make something clear.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

It would be the writer's choice. Maybe the writer is listing the names of people coming, but also wanted to highlight Jack and Joan were a couple.


Except that didn't really work that way with either of Earnest's examples.

It would have to be Fred, Mary, John, Jim, and Jack and Joan before I would read the last pair as a couple.

But then it stands out as out of place, why are they the only couple there?

The point is, with the serial comma there is no ambiguity. Without it, the writer might have to insert it to make something clear.


Agreed, there are cases where it is necessary. Lists of people by first name are not really a valid example of that.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

It would have to be Fred, Mary, John, Jim, and Jack and Joan before I would read the last pair as a couple.


I agree. I skimmed his example.

Replies:   sejintenej
sejintenej

@Switch Blayde

Dominions Son

It would have to be Fred, Mary, John, Jim, and Jack and Joan before I would read the last pair as a couple.

Given the fact that there are two separate "and"s I agree. To make it abundantly clear in BritE I would be tempted to replace the comma after Jim and the first "and" with the word "plus"

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Can you give me an example?

The exact words of the response I had planned until I saw you got there first.
Great minds ... :-)

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Dominions Son


@EB : But if the list is Fred, Mary, John, Jim, Jack and Joan you don't know if Jack and Joan are a couple or not.
@DS :
1. You don't know if they are a couple or not in either version. Even if they are a couple, they are still individual people.
2. Why would it be necessary, useful, and / or desirable to single Jack and Joan out as a couple in the list itself?

(1)
If readers know Serial Commas are being used correctly, they know Jack and Joan are a couple.
If readers know Non-Serial Commas are being used correctly, they know Jack and Joan are NOT a couple.
If an author using Non-Serial Commas wants to show they are a couple, they must shift that pair to am earlier position in the list, or alternatively make the last item of their list 'and Jack and Joan'.
* * *

(2)
Because authors have imaginations.

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

(1)
If readers know Serial Commas are being used correctly, they know Jack and Joan are a couple.
If readers know Non-Serial Commas are being used correctly, they know Jack and Joan are NOT a couple.


Neither of EB's examples use serial commas correctly.

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

(2)
Because authors have imaginations.


Not good enough. Couples tend to socialize with other couples. a group of several singles and one couples is out of place without more explanation than the list itself can provide.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

I do not believe either Serial Commas or Non-Serial Commas can cause ambiguities.
I find using Serial Commas automatically prevents ambiguities of particular classes, without them some potential ambiguities would slip through because I don't detect and work to correct them.
* * *
It is possible to be unambiguous without using Serial Commas.
Institutions like The New York Times and The Economist would not use that style if this were not possible. But there motivation for doing so is not that they consider not using them produces better writing, rather that allows their professional editors to writing is as good but costs the publication less.

Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

Me : Because authors have imaginations.
You: Not good enough. Couples tend to socialize with other couples. a group of several singles and one couples is out of place without more explanation than the list itself can provide.

YES, it is plenty good enough!
Your "out of place without more explanation than the list itself can provide" is something you just pulled out of your ass/arse. A good author, with an imagination, would have provided the context in advance to justify using a list that contained some mixture of single(s) and couple(s).

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

Not offhand.

The best explanation I've seen was in a punctuation textbook borrowed from my local library, but I can't remember the title. The Serial Comma was explained and it listed the pros and cons, including examples where it cleared up ambiguity and created ambiguity.

There should be similar explanations and examples on the internet.

AJ

Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

There should be similar explanations and examples on the internet.


This is from the first one I found:

Garner's Modern American Usage.

Here's what it says on page 676:

Whether to include the serial comma has sparked many arguments. But it's easily answered in favor of inclusion because omitting the final comma may cause ambiguities, whereas including it never will ….


then the author of the article says:

I think that's incorrect, in that in addition to allowing you to avoid ambiguity, the serial comma can in certain circumstances cause ambiguity. Here's what MSCD 12.61 says:

But the serial comma can also create ambiguity. Consider the following adjusted version of the dedication [discussed in the preceding paragraph]: To my mother, Ayn Rand [,] and God. With the serial comma, the reader could understand the dedication as meaning either that the book is dedicated three ways or that the book is dedicated to the writer's mother, who happens to be Ayn Rand, and to God. Omitting the serial comma makes the latter meaning less likely.


The second one is misusing the serial comma. It's assuming you ALWAYS put it before the last "and" which isn't always correct. So it's not the serial comma causing ambiguity, but putting in an extra comma.

Replies:   Ross at Play  REP
Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

There should be similar explanations and examples on the internet.


I found one:

"We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin."

"We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin."

Grammar nuts will rightly point out that the first sentence is clear, while the second sentence could be thought to mean that JFK and Stalin were the names of the strippers. In grammatical terms, the second sentence leaves ambiguity as to whether "JFK and Stalin" are names on a list or an apposition describing "strippers."

The problem with this argument is that the serial comma could just as easily, if not more easily, create ambiguity in a similar example:

"We invited the stripper, JFK, and Stalin."

"We invited the stripper, JFK and Stalin."

In this case, the first sentence could be thought to mean that invitations were sent to Stalin and a stripper named JFK, while the second sentence is technically clear. Simply changing the word that precedes the ambiguous pairing from plural to singular puts the serial comma on the wrong side of clarity.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

The second one is misusing the serial comma.

You got that one right, SB.
* * *
The quote from some "reference" shows such complete misunderstanding of how Serial Commas are used it's not worth looking at to see where it went wrong.
* * *
This is how Serial Commas unambiguously show different meanings for those words ...
(a) Dedicated to my mother, Ayn Rand, and God.
Means a dedication to three different entities
(b) Dedicated to my mother Ayn Rand, and God.
Means Ayn Rand is the speaker's mother
(c) Dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.
Means the speaker's parents are Ayn Rand and God.
* * *
As usual, claims Serial Commas or Non-Serial Commas have caused an ambiguity are rubbish, and the ambiguity results from the "authority" not understanding how the other style is correctly used.

Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

As usual, claims Serial Commas or Non-Serial Commas have caused an ambiguity are rubbish, and the ambiguity results from the "authority" not understanding how the other style is correctly used.


Most, but not all, of the ambiguity with either choice is due to poor word order choice that could have been avoided with a rewording of the sentence.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

The words: We invited the strippers JFK and Stalin

Using Serial Commas
We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin = invited JFK and Stalin, and some strippers
We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin = invited strippers named JFK and Stalin
We invited the strippers JFK, and Stalin = invited Stalin to see a group of strippers named JFK
* * *
Using Serial Commas
We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin = invited JFK and Stalin, and some strippers
We invited the strippers - JFK and Stalin = invited strippers named JFK and Stalin
We invited the strippers JFK, and Stalin = invited Stalin to see a group of strippers named JFK

Ernest Bywater

Of course, this thread title begs the question of:

Why not use the Oxford Comma?

and we can go around the circles again.

Replies:   samuelmichaels
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ross at Play


(b) Dedicated to my mother Ayn Rand, and God.

Means Ayn Rand is the speaker's mother


Actually, for it to mean that you need to put "Ayn Rand" inside commas and that's where the confusion can be.

I once read about some weird comma rules. This is the only one that I remember.

If the person has more than one mother you write it without the comma. But if he only has one mother, the mother's name needs to have commas on both sides of it. For example:

1. I went to the movies with my brother John and we had a good time.

2. I went to the movies with my brother, John, and we had a good time.

In #1, I have more than one brother so the name of the brother cannot be left out.

In #2, I only have one brother so the sentence makes sense without specifying his name so "John" needs to be surrounded with commas.

Replies:   Ross at Play
REP
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


but putting in an extra comma.


Actually, their are two items in this list (i.e., mother and God) so no commas should be used to separate list items.

It could be rewritten for clarity - To God and my mother, Ayn Rand.

edit to add: that assumes the mother's name is Ayn Rand.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

If the person has more than one mother you write it without the comma. But if he only has one mother, the mother's name needs to have commas on both sides of it.

I am fully aware of the "rule" that nonrestrictive appositives are placed inside a pair of commas, and restrictive appositives have no commas.
* * *
I applied another "rule": Ignore any other rule if necessary to avoid some potential ambiguity.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@REP

Actually, there are two items in this list (i.e., mother and God) so no commas should be used to separate list items.

Actually, with only two items in a list the use of a comma is optional.
Generally there should be no comma - but it is not forbidden - and writers do use them frequently.

It could be rewritten for clarity - To God and my mother, Ayn Rand.

Correct, but that is not what we were discussing here.
Good writers and copy editors routinely reorder sentences as their first option to achieve ambiguity.

What we were discussing here is whether either style of comma usage creates ambiguities.
My contention here is that neither style creates ambiguities - if used correctly.
My experience is it's far easier for a not-so-good writer to avoid ambiguities if they use the Serial Comma style correctly - that style automatically eliminates many types of potential ambiguities.

StarFleet Carl

@Dominions Son

Jack and Joan


Who's Joan? It is, was, and shall always be ... Jack and Diane.

You know, two American kids growing up in the heartland...

Chili dog, anyone?

Oh, and regarding the discussion about American English destroying British English? What about Australian ... I guess it's English. Considering that I spent half an hour watching Star Wars Downunder and NEEDED the subtitles for a good portion of it...

(Oh, and if you have ANY Star Wars geek in you at all, go watch the movie and not laugh. I dare you. It's on YouTube.)

awnlee jawking

@StarFleet Carl

Star Wars Downunder


Sounds like a gay porn movie. Why would you need subtitles? :)

AJ

Replies:   StarFleet Carl
Ross at Play
Updated:

@StarFleet Carl


I spent half an hour watching Star Wars Downunder and NEEDED the subtitles for a good portion of it...


Many years ago there was an Australian rock group called Australian Crawl that achieved some international success.

Like much modern music, their lyrics were almost impossible to understand and many probably assumed it was because of the lead singer's Aussie accent.

A local sketch comedy show which did a parody of one of their songs - with subtitles so Australians could understand the words.

The words scrolling across the bottom of the screen got faster and faster, and descended into things like, "What was that? He fingered his mother? ... No. She lingered all summer and ... cooked eel fanny? ... Oh, looked real fancy ..." and so on.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
richardshagrin

And then there is the Oxford Coma:
Coma

Medical condition

A coma is a deep state of unconsciousness. An individual in a coma is alive but unable to move or respond to his or her environment. Coma may occur as a complication of an underlying illness, or as a result of injuries, such as brain injury.

This discussion is driving me into a coma.

Ernest Bywater

@richardshagrin

This discussion is driving me into a coma.


That's OK, as long as it's a Commer you're being driven in - they're good vans.

StarFleet Carl
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


Why would you need subtitles?


From their website - "Star Wars Downunder is a 30 minute Star Wars fan film which finally answers the age-old question that has confounded many a film buff before: What would happen if you crossed Star Wars with an Australian beer commercial. Answer? Star Wars Downunder: an epic tale of the good, the bad and the thirsty."

Just watch the thing at http://swdufanfilm.com/.

awnlee jawking

@richardshagrin

Don't forget the Oxford Korma. As well as the neofascist 'liberal' academic contingent, there's a sizeable population from the Indian subcontinent.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

I vaguely remember an aussie group which got banned in some areas because neofascist 'liberals' thought they were taking the mickey out of West Indian accents. I can't remember the name of the group though :(

AJ

samuelmichaels

@Ernest Bywater

Why not use the Oxford Comma?

and we can go around the circles again.

Around Oxford Circus, you mean.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@samuelmichaels

Around Oxford Circus, you mean.


nah, this has already turned into a circus, so we can just go around in the circles within the circus.

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