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The Oxford comma: useful, impractical[,] or necessary?

The+Oxford+comma+is+a+comma+added+before+the+word+%E2%80%9Cand+in+a+sequenced+sentence.+This+minor+grammatical+detail+may+seem+insignificant%2C+though+it+has+caused+much+controversy+among+many.+Is+the+Oxford+comma+grammatically+correct%2C+or+is+it+simply+unnecessary%3F
Elisabeth Lee and Roxy Kalantari
The Oxford comma is a comma added before the word “and” in a sequenced sentence. This minor grammatical detail may seem insignificant, though it has caused much controversy among many. Is the Oxford comma grammatically correct, or is it simply unnecessary?

Bonnie and Clyde, Romeo and Juliet[,] and Adam and Eve. To most, this would seem like a regular sentence listing famous couples in history. But what we want to emphasize is that last comma at the end, the Oxford comma. 

First, what in the world is an Oxford comma? In short, it is the last comma in a series of items and is usually before the conjunction “and”. This tiny punctuation, albeit invisible at times, has been controversial for the longest time. People are either for or against the use of it. 

 

Why the Oxford comma IS necessary

Stephanie Lyn, Open Canvas Manager

Some people might tell you that the Oxford comma is unnecessary, but they’re probably just in denial of how English works. In my—and most people’s—case, the Oxford comma is absolutely necessary to English and grammar in general.

It adds clarity

The Oxford comma is necessary because it helps bring clarity to the meaning of a sentence that would otherwise be confusing to read.

Here is an example of how the Oxford comma can change the meaning of a sentence:

  • I’d like to thank my parents, Jesus and Audrey Hepburn.
  • I’d like to thank my parents, Jesus, and Audrey Hepburn.

Oh wow, I didn’t know that your parents were Jesus and Audrey Hepburn! See how that can be a tad bit confusing? Yeah, that’s what happens when you make the grave mistake of not adding that crucial comma.

But with it in the sentence, it is now more clear and comprehensible that you’d want to thank your parents in addition to thanking Jesus and Audrey Hepburn. Problem solved.

Do you know what omitting an Oxford comma can cost you? $5 million in the case of the 2014 Maine lawsuit. A dairy company in Maine famously lost a multi-million-dollar lawsuit on paying workers overtime because of an omitted Oxford comma. Maine law required overtime pay for every hour over 40 hours, yet the example above listed the exemptions for it.

  • [Workers would not be paid overtimes when engaged in:] The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

                      (1) Agricultural produce;

                      (2) Meat and fish products; and

                      (3) Perishable foods.

But a disagreement settled over whether “packing for shipment or distribution” was a conjoined activity or if it was separate.

An Oxford comma after “shipment” would have won the case for the company against its workers, but since they mistakenly omitted it, the company lost $5 million dollars. I don’t know about you, but that one comma could’ve changed everything.

It provides rhythm

Think about it, a comma is the written equivalent to a spoken pause. It’s no different with the Oxford. Adding them at the end provides a rhythm that matches the rest of the list, rather than emphasizing the last few items.

Without Oxford:

  • The sun, moon, stars and planets are all part of the galaxy.

With Oxford:

  • The sun, moon, stars, and planets are all part of the galaxy.

Did you add an extra pause at the end of “stars”? Or did you combine “stars” and “planets” together? See, the reason why the latter sounds more rhythmic is that the comma adds a natural cadence that indicates the last two items as separate, rather than as a group.

“And” is NOT a replacement

Now say that again. “And” isn’t a replacement for the need of commas. Take for example “I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fish and chips and biscuits and gravy.” Oh boy, that’s a mouthful to say. The lack of the Oxford muddles the meaning of the sentence. Is it pairs or an ongoing list of “and”? This monotonous structure is such a bore that I can already hear the yawns from the readers.

In the end, using the Oxford comma just makes sense. It’s not that complicated and it provides so much more clarity to your writing. So please, for the sake of writing, use it!

 

Why the Oxford comma is NOT necessary

Rachel Dunn, Assistant Features Editor

The Oxford comma is simply unnecessary and makes the already difficult English language even more difficult to understand. Why add extra confusion to a sentence when the meaning will stay the same? Stop making an already difficult language even harder to understand!

It adds no further meaning

Read these two sentences below and see if you can spot the difference.

  • I like apples, oranges and grapes.
  • I like apples, oranges, and grapes.

Did the lack of an extra comma after the word “oranges” really prohibit your ability to understand that sentence? No. Now imagine learning English for the first time and being told that sometimes commas precede the word “and ” and other times it doesn’t. How confusing! This makes no sense considering that the extra comma makes no difference in the meaning of the sentence.

Pairing can be assumed without a comma

Here’s a slightly more complex sentence example, where the additional comma is still not necessary.

  • I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fish and chips and biscuits and gravy.

Typically in a sentence like this, the items paired together are naturally cohesive. No one eats jelly with their fish! It is to be assumed what pairs with what, without needing the additional comma. It is rare to find a sentence with completely unrelated ideas all crammed in one, expecting the reader to be able to differentiate them. In this case, it is often broken into two separate sentences, where the Oxford comma is still not necessary.

“And” supplements for the Oxford comma

So what is the purpose of the word “and” in a sentence sequence? The word “and” is a conjunction word that combines two related ideas in the same sentence. Knowing that this word is meant for two clauses, why add an additional comma? The last “and” in a sentence adds plenty of clarification that ideas are being separated, thus making the additional comma completely unnecessary. With the use of the word “and” along with the Oxford comma, the sentence begins to get unnecessarily complicated and confusing.

It encourages lazy writing 

In the example of “I’d like to thank my parents, Jesus, and Audrey Hepburn,” I would like to emphasize how the extra comma encourages lazy writing. Rather than rearranging the sequence, the writer lazily inserted ungrammatical punctuation. The following rearranged sentence is not only grammatically correct, but also much more cohesive – “I’d like to thank Jesus, Audrey Hepburn and my parents.” The simple rearrangement of the sentence eliminates the Oxford comma.

One website supports this notion saying, “Unnecessary rules will hamper the development of good writers. Grammatical rules are attempts to approximate the practices of the good writer, but they are insufficient to produce good writing, and their legalistic application may inhibit good writing,” thefederalist.com said.

So please, with the English language continuing to get more and more confusing, let’s omit the Oxford comma. After all, it is extra punctuation that fails to add any meaning, while also making the flow extra confusing. Take it out!

****

A simple curved line placed in a sentence – this punctuation has caused lots of controversy among many people. Should we use the Oxford comma or should we not? This question has people divided on the matter. While some argue that it is grammatically correct, others say that it is unnecessary and adds extra clutter in a sentence. So, is the Oxford comma useful, impractical[,] or necessary?

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About the Contributors
Rachel Dunn, Assistant Features Editor
Rachel Dunn (12) is a first-year journalist for the Bulldog Times. Rachel is looking forward to using her passion for writing to inform students about the current and local issues within Chino Hills. Additionally, she is excited to build new friendships with people who have the same passion for writing as she does. Outside of journalism, Rachel is the vice president and former secretary of Ayala’s Christian club. She uses her leadership skills to help students grow their relationship with Christ. When she is not at school, Rachel can most often be found at Trader Joe’s, where she works. She loves her job and the people that she works with. In her free time, Rachel enjoys reading, art, Netflix, and long afternoon naps.

Stephanie Lyn, Open Canvas Manager
Stephanie Lyn (11) is a reporter for The Bulldog Times, and this is her 1st year on staff. Stephanie hopes to grow as a writer in the elements of journalism and gain new experience. She looks forward to seeing how Journalism grows as editors and new staff work together to write new articles and improve as a collective body. In addition to being a writer, she is also an officer of Christian Club. She is a Christian and puts her identity in Christ, reflecting His love towards others. In her free time, she loves creative writing, reading, and listening to music–particularly Taylor Swift, and hanging out with friends and family.
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