I was in third grade. Mrs. Neff’s high heels clicked on the floor past each student’s desk as she passed out the grammar test. I stared at the test: Commas.
I began my nervous tick of tugging on my bright blonde pig tails. I hate English, I told myself, and there are too many rules for grammar. Who cares about commas anyway? This was my first encounter with the beloved Oxford comma, a time when the Oxford comma was a concrete rule. It was none of this, “Well, you can use it or not use as long as you’re consistent.”
The Oxford comma… Even the name sounds prestigious! The Oxford comma goes by a couple different names: the optional comma, serial comma, and of course my favorite name, the Oxford comma.
The Oxford comma, which is my preferred name, is considered the optional comma before the word “and” at the end of a list. To me, it is more than an option. It efficiently deciphers any type of ambiguity. Take this for example:
With the Oxford comma: We invited strippers, Walt Disney, and Stalin.
Without the Oxford comma: We invited strippers, Walt Disney and Stalin.
Here, the importance of the Oxford comma is that the Walt Disney and Stalin are not strippers. The list needs that added comma to clarify that the strippers are its own entity and not the two men.
Another hilarious example is:
With the Oxford comma: I went twerking with the puppies, Miley Cyrus, and Jennifer Lawrence.
Without the Oxford comma: I went twerking with the puppies, Miley Cyrus and Jennifer L.
Clearly, Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Lawrence are not puppies. But, the vagueness sets up a great debate for readers. In fact, my eighty-three-year-old grandma has no idea who Miley Cyrus or Jennifer Lawrence is; therefore, she might think it’s plausible that they are puppies! Yikes.
Within these examples, it is essential to use the comma. I find that using the Oxford comma does more good than bad.
Within the big four styles, I looked up the rules: AP, CMS, APA, and MLA
The AP style does not require the beloved Oxford comma. Why? I believe they enjoy uncertainty in their journalistic writing. Perhaps they dislike having a distinct style and refuse the Oxford comma.
MLA also suggests that we use commas to separate words, phrases, and clauses.
Thankfully, CMS says that when a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma should appear before the conjunction. Chicago highly recommends the practiced usage of the comma.
APA says to use a comma between elements in a series of three or more.
As far as these styles go, I believe that in the United States, there is almost a choice.
Like AP, it is a journalistic style to not use the comma, but with literal writing, it is highly suggested. Perhaps it is not mandatorily stated, but the Oxford comma is generally recommended for college writing.
In my opinion, yes, all styles should follow the same suit. It’s difficult enough as it is to remember which style follows what rules, but to make a blanket rule with the Oxford comma (Which I’m in favor of keeping), would be fantastic. Let’s make it easier for the readers. How about that idea for once?