Home « Forum « Author Hangout

Forum: Author Hangout

Oxford Comma - not the court case

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

As someone who usually uses the Oxford Comma I feel it important to point out there are times when it shouldn't be used, plus the basics of how to tell when you should consider using it.

The use of the Oxford Comma is generally how you tell the difference between a linked pair and a list item. A comma makes it a list of separate items while the absence makes it a linked pair (in general).

Everyone knows that you carry a bow and arrows if you go hunting with them, because one alone isn't any good. If you have a gun and a knife and you list them after the bow the list would go: He has a bow and arrows, gun, and a knife. Or the more logical way to say it would be: He has a gun, knife, bow and arrows. While a display counter in a hunting goods store would have the separate items with displays of guns, knives, bows, and arrows - thus showing each item is separate. - yes I used plurals to make it more obvious.

Most people also know the parents in the TV Nelson family are Ozzie and Harriet (linked pair = no comma), while the males in the family are Ozzie, David, and Ricky (list of three with commas). So when you have three couples coming to dinner it would be appropriate to say you were expecting Jim and Mary, Fred and Joan, and John and Jane. - This shows a list of three linked pairs.

Having said all that it's not uncommon to not have a comma when there's only two items in the list, like eating fish and chips for dinner.

...................

My advice is to use the comma for a list of three or more items or three or more actions. I also advise people to use it when using the word and to link to phrases in the same way as you use a comma with the word but to link phrases, however I don't always do it.

Generally it's best to go with what you think carries the intended meaning the best way. I don't see it as a mandatory requirement, just something that can lead to a misreading of what you've written - which can happen with almost anything.

typo edit

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

Everyone knows that you carry a bow and arrows if you go hunting with them, because one alone isn't any good.


A bow is of no use without arrows.

The reverse, an arrow is of no use without a bow, is not necessarily true. Granted, the arrow is less useful without a bow, but it could be thrown or used to stab something as if it were a small spear.

richardshagrin

@Dominions Son

A bow is of no use without arrows.

It could be used as a club or as a cane, for support. The string could be a tourniquet or to hold your pants up. Or, barely conceivably, as a musical instrument, a one string harp.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@richardshagrin

It could be used as a club or as a cane


Sure, an old fashioned long bow or even a recurve bow might be usable like that, but a crossbow or a modern compound bow would not.

Replies:   BlacKnight
Ernest Bywater

@Dominions Son

Granted, the arrow is less useful without a bow, but it could be thrown or used to stab something as if it were a small spear.


I'll let you go hunting with just an arrow, and see how much you manage to bring back for the table with just an arrow.

Ernest Bywater

@Dominions Son

I notice you avoid the core of the discussion to pick a very minor nit. Hmm.

Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

I notice you avoid the core of the discussion to pick a very minor nit. Hmm.


In my opinion, the core of the discussion is a dead horse.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Dominions Son


In my opinion, the core of the discussion is a dead horse.


Then you should've just left the discussion alone, the way most of us do in similar situations, instead of continuing it by using a distraction. It's not dead to everyone, so they need to focus on what's said and not silly distractions.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

I notice you avoid the core of the discussion to pick a very minor nit. Hmm.

The tiny nits are less intimidating than their bigger peers. That makes those who pick tiny nits, pedo-nit lickers.

BlacKnight

@Dominions Son

Sure, an old fashioned long bow or even a recurve bow might be usable like that, but a crossbow or a modern compound bow would not.

A crossbow makes a vastly better club than a longbow or recurve does (whatever watching Arrow might have taught you). Bowstaves are light and flexible by nature and function. Crossbow stocks aren't.

As someone whose writing often includes people armed with bows, I never use "bow and arrow" as a stock phrase. I just write "bow", and leave it implied that they have arrows as well, because why would they be carrying a bow but no arrows? If for whatever reason they don't have arrows (maybe they shot them all off and haven't had a chance to get more), I'll make it explicit that they're lacking the arrows.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@BlacKnight

I just write "bow", and leave it implied that they have arrows as well, because why would they be carrying a bow but no arrows?


A lot depends on the circumstances. I've a lot of stories where the characters use bows and arrows. In some cases they have their bow and an arrow in hand, while in other cases they're carrying the bow with the quiver of arrows carried elsewhere on their body, or they have the bow in hand with the arrows stuck in the ground in front of them waiting to be used in the battle about to be fought. However it goes, when they go to collect them from the armoury etc they collect the bow and arrows at the same time.

However, all this is again moving away from the focus of the discussion being when to use, and when not to use the Oxford Comma. Since no one is disputing what i said I can only think they agree with what I said to assist others in it's usage.

robberhands

@Ernest Bywater

Since no one is disputing what i said I can only think they agree with what I said to assist others in it's usage.

At least I do. Although, I never thought about 'linked pairs', I would use the same punctuation as you for the examples you stated.

REP

@Ernest Bywater

Since no one is disputing what i said


or they just don't want to get back in the same argument.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
richardshagrin

@Ernest Bywater

Oxford Comma

I don't want oxen wading through water to splatter on my page. No Ox Ford commas for me.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@richardshagrin

No Ox Ford commas for me.


I think the splashing takes place in an Ox Fjord.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I think the splashing takes place in an Ox Fjord.

"Oh Yar, it looks like Oxen Fjords to me."

awnlee jawking

@REP

As a Brit, I'm used to eating cereal for breakfast rather than making commas out of it.

I use a broadly similar strategy to Ernest, although the minutiae might end up slightly different. Not enough to restart the whole 'Oxford or not' argument.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

As a Brit, I'm used to eating cereal for breakfast rather than making commas out of it.

Yes, but does it have sugary rainbows in it, or is it that steaming pile of much we Americans refer to as 'oatmeal'?

Back to Top