PUNCTUATION- Serial comma

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PUNCTUATION- Serial comma

Post  Vincent Law on Thu Apr 12, 2012 7:43 am


When you use commas to separate items in a list or series, do you include a comma before the conjunction near the end of the list?

For example:
"I write poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction." (This sentence does not use a serial comma.)
or
"I write poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction." (This sentence does use a serial comma.)

The Serial Comma:
The comma used before the conjunction in a list of three or more items is called a serial comma. Sometimes it’s referred to as the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma.
If you pay attention to little things like punctuation marks, you’ll notice that writers are split on this one. Some people use the serial comma diligently. Some use it on occasion. Others don’t use it at all.

So, which way is correct?

Style, Grammar, and Punctuation:

The question of whether or not to use a serial comma is not a grammatical matter. Technically, there is no right or wrong answer because grammarians haven’t set forth an absolute rule for serial comma usage.

So, it’s left up to the writers, which means that usage of a serial comma is a style issue.

If you’re not sure whether you should use a serial comma, particularly for a professional piece of writing, you should consult the appropriate style guide. Most publications adhere to a style guide, as do academic institutions and many businesses.

Arguments Against the Serial Comma:

Traditionally, the serial comma was standard fare in written English. However, once the printing press entered the equation, newspapers decided to forgo the serial comma to save space. That’s why journalism style guides such as The New York Times Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook do not include serial commas in their guidelines.

There are several arguments against use of the serial comma. These include:

- Using the serial comma is not conventional.
- Including the serial comma may cause ambiguity.
- It’s redundant, since the conjunction in such a sentence marks the same pause or separation that the serial comma would mark.

Example:
"This table is reserved for the writer, Jane Doe, and Mr. Blackwell."

In the sentence above, it’s unclear whether the table is reserved for two or three people. “The writer” could be referring to Jane Doe, or the writer and Jane Doe could be two separate individuals.

As for convention, the absence of the serial comma is only conventional in journalism. In almost all other forms of writing, it is more conventional to use it.

Arguments for the Serial Comma:

Most authorities outside of journalism recommend using the serial comma consistently. For example, both The Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style recommend using a serial comma. The MLA Style Manual, which is the primary style resource in academics, also supports use of the serial comma.

Arguments for the use of the serial comma include:

- Serial commas reduce ambiguity.
- It promotes consistency, since sometimes a serial comma will be required for clarity.
- Usage is in line with other practices for separating list items (i.e. semicolons).

Examples:
"I speak regularly to my best friends, Jane Doe and Mr. Blackwell."

The sentence above is unclear. Does the narrator speak to three entities (best friends, Jane Doe, and Mr. Blackwell) or are Jane Doe and Mr. Blackwell the narrator’s best friends? Adding the serial comma clarifies:
"I speak regularly to my best friends, Jane Doe, and Mr. Blackwell."

http://www.writingforward.com/grammar/punctuation-marks/serial-comma-punctuation-marks
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Vincent Law
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Re: PUNCTUATION- Serial comma

Post  Vincent Law on Thu Apr 12, 2012 7:47 am

The Case of the Serial Comma

The only authorities who advocate omitting the final comma are newspaper style guides (which wish to save column space) and some English writers (who waffle on the rule).

My original assertion stands, with minor qualifications: Except for journalists, all American authorities say to use the final serial comma: "He went to the store to buy milk, butter, and eggs."

The reason for the final serial comma is to prevent the last 2 items' being confused as a unit (butter-and-eggs).

A Puzzle Remains

I am still puzzled that the serial comma error has been so universally promulgated. People who know nothing else about punctuation recite this error with conviction, which says something ominous about the state of English language instruction. Why have many English teachers taught this wrong rule? Are they truly unaware that press style is for journalists and that we have a wealth of better authorities for standard American usage?
People Know the Wrong "Wrong Rule"

Complicating matters, most people remember a misleadingly simplified version of the wrong rule: "You don't need a comma before and." This assumption leads people to make yet another punctuation error — to omit the necessary comma in a compound sentence, as these examples illustrate.

http://www.google.com/imghp
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Re: PUNCTUATION- Serial comma

Post  Vincent Law on Thu Apr 12, 2012 7:48 am

Get in on the Discussion

Do you use a serial comma? Sometimes? Never? Always? Do you even think about it? Have you ever been reading and stumbled across a sentence that was confusing because of the serial comma (or lack thereof)?

It’s unlikely that your choices regarding serial commas will make or break your writing career, especially if you are focused on creative writing. However, mastering punctuation marks is one of the essential steps on the ladder to becoming a professional writer, so you might as well get this one out of the way and take a stand.

So, whether or not you use a serial comma, just be sure to keep on writing.

Are you a fan of the serial comma or do you avoid using it whenever possible? Share your thoughts about this and other punctuation marks...
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