The "Oxford comma" explained

Some grammar rules (and embarrassing mistakes!) transcend the uniqueness of different regions and style guides. This new International Grammar section by OnlineBookClub.org ultimately identifies those rules thus providing a simple, flexible rule-set, respecting the differences between regions and style guides. You can feel free to ask general questions about spelling and grammar. You can also provide example sentences for other members to proofread and inform you of any grammar mistakes.
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Re: The "Oxford comma" explained

Post by moderntimes » 17 Aug 2015, 15:46

No, blue, the Oxford comma is different from the serial comma. That guide has it wrong. My reference is the ACTUAL Oxford College PDF Guide. If you PM me with your email address I'll be happy to send it to you.

The serial comma is used before the "and" in an list of equal items:

He bought red, blue, and green paint.

But the Oxford guide SPECIFICALLY omits that comma, with:

He bought red, blue and green paint.

The Oxford comma is NOT a comma that's omitted nor is it the "serial" comma. It's used before the "and" in an "uneven" list that contains groupings -- here is the exact quote from their own guide:

I ate fish and chips, bread and jam, and ice cream.

In this example, actually taken from the Oxford College guide, the "Oxford comma" is the comma after "jam" and before the final "and". So the two types of commas are different, even though the difference is subtle. Oxford College guide essentially puts a deleted comma back into the sentence if the meaning is unclear with the comma missing, per the food example above.

As I said, I really don't care, just so long as the guide I'm following is consistent. I myself prefer the serial comma because it's more logical (and taking from my tech background, more "scientific") but common usage is now on the trend to not use the serial comma. I'm okay with either, just so long as I know the rules.
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Post by bluemel4 » 17 Aug 2015, 16:01

I have to disagree. It is not common usage not to use the serial comma. It is encouraged to use it. The Oxford comma in your style guide given to you by your publishers obviously is about British English usage. Not US. I think it is important to note that both are acceptable in terms of usage not just the Oxford College guide's interpretation.

-- Mon Aug 17, 2015 3:07 pm --

Oxford comma is sometimes referred to as the serial comma or Harvard comma. They are the same it just matters what style guide and what region you are writing for.
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Post by bookowlie » 17 Aug 2015, 16:24

Here's a good example why I will always use the Oxford/Harvard/serial comma.

I went to the movies with the kids, John, and James.
vs.
I went to the movies with the kids, John and James.

Without the Oxford comma, the meaning is changed and it sounds like John and James are the kids' names. The actual meaning of the sentence is that John, James, and the kids went to the movies with you.
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Post by moderntimes » 17 Aug 2015, 17:31

Well, blue, If a guy named Pete invents a card game and has what he call's "Pete's rules" then someone else can't use that same name and say "Pete got his rules wrong. Here's the correct rules..." because Pete is the guy who invented the game and his own personally invented rules.

If Oxford College creates what IT CALLS THE OXFORD COMMA, then that's their comma and their rules. Someone else can't say "no, the Oxford comma is not this way, it's this way, Oxford is wrong about their own definition of the comma rules."

Now someone else can create other rules for commas and say "this is the serial comma rule" or "this is the Chicago Style Guide" rule, but they can't re-define the Oxford comma rules and call them the "Oxford comma" rules if the rules are different from what Oxford first defined. If a new set of rules is created, then those are named "Ed's Rules" or "Karen's Rules" and that's fine.

The purpose of the Oxford comma is as bookowlie describes -- it's used if a deleted comma messes with the meaning of the phrase.
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Post by bluemel4 » 17 Aug 2015, 17:42

Dude... this is getting silly. Do yourself a favor and google Oxford comma vs serial comma and see what happens. It will be an eye opening experience I am sure.

Again these are style guides. GUIDES. Use your judgement. Afterall that is what a guide is... just a recommendation. So be aware that it exists, but do what you feel most comfortable with on this site. We do not have a style guide.

modertimes you have a specific set of rules you must follow because of your publisher. If you are bringing this to our attention because you do not want us to look at books that use the UK form of English grammar negatively due to ignorance then you have a vaild point. Otherwise this is not relevant to how we write our reviews.
Last edited by bluemel4 on 17 Aug 2015, 18:11, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by bookowlie » 17 Aug 2015, 18:02

bluemel4 wrote:Dude... this is getting silly. Do yourself a favor and google Oxford comma vs serial comma and see what happens. It will be an eye opening experience I am sure.

Again these are style guides. GUIDES. Use your judgement. Afterall that is what a guide is... just a recommendation. So be aware that it exists, but do what you feel most confortable with on this site. We do not have a style guide.

modertimes you have a specific set of rules you must follow because of your publisher. If you are bringing this to our attention because you do not want us to look at books that use the UK form of English grammar negatively due to ignorance then you have a vaild point. Otherwise this is not relevant to how we write our reviews.
I totally agree. By the way, I used my example as a way to explain how not using the comma can make the meaning of the sentence confusing. I, for one, always use the comma. I use it for sentences such as "I like to eat fried chicken, lobster, and shrimp." Splitting hairs regarding whether the comma is called the Oxford comma, Harvard comma or serial comma doesn't change the meaning.
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Post by zeldas_lullaby » 17 Aug 2015, 18:36

I too always use the comma. I salute Mel on her thorough research.

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Post by moderntimes » 17 Aug 2015, 19:27

Has nothing to do with my preferences or what my publisher wants to use. I've got no agenda and I frankly don't care.

It's all a "guide" but you're missing the point, blue: IF a book is put out by Oxford College and they themselves formulate a rule that they call the "Oxford comma" then insofar as that guide is constituted, the definition that they provide is theirs to say what it is. And others may misinterpret that rule but it's pretty clear to me that the Oxford comma is different from the serial comma, per the examples I listed.

Now if someone else thinks that the definition of the Oxford vs serial commas is the same, then that other person needs to show how they are the same, via the same examples I set. If the other rulebook defines it differently, they are very welcome to create a "Jim's comma rule" or whatever, but they cannot redefine the Oxford comma rule to suit their own interpretation. A meter is 100 cm long because the SI people define it as such. Someone else can't come along and say "no, a meter is 45 cm".
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Post by bookowlie » 17 Aug 2015, 20:01

On countless websites, it is stated that the serial comma is also known as the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma. I am not going to spend my time jotting down website names and proof of this statement. This is not a courtroom trial nor should it be. If anything, this subforum is called the International Grammar forum. I think the purpose of the subforum is to let the editors and reviewers know what is acceptable so that editors on this site don't take points off of reviews for things that are commonly used in other countries. Other than that, I am stepping away from further comments on this topic.
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Post by zeldas_lullaby » 17 Aug 2015, 20:07

ModernTimes, there's making your point, and then there's beating it to death. You know that expression about how you shouldn't beat a dead horse? You're beating a dead horse. Who cares about the comma? Personally, I'm in a comma coma right now. Let's all move on and be nice to each other.

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Post by bookowlie » 17 Aug 2015, 20:37

We should tell Fox News to include the question in the next Republican debate with 15+ candidates on stage. Donald Trump can say "we need build a wall to keep the comma out" and "I gave money to both sides on this issue, since I am a practical businessman." Then he can blame the whole thing on Megyn Kelly and say she targeted in by asking him the question.

A little levity, folks. :)
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Post by zeldas_lullaby » 17 Aug 2015, 20:50

BookOwlie, I don't find that funny or appropriate at all.

GOTCHA!! :lol: :lol: :lol:

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Post by bookowlie » 17 Aug 2015, 21:03

zeldas_lullaby wrote:BookOwlie, I don't find that funny or appropriate at all.

GOTCHA!! :lol: :lol: :lol:
Zelda, I am going to build a wall and have all the authors behind the wall and only Donald Trump will be able to open the little door he is going to build in the wall. Maybe the previous cast of Celebrity Apprentice will guard the wall.
:laughing-rolling:
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Post by zeldas_lullaby » 17 Aug 2015, 21:07

She's off the chain, folks.

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Post by moderntimes » 18 Aug 2015, 11:56

bookowlie, I agree that we don't need to debate the issue any further. I myself can see the difference in the "serial" comma vs the "Oxford" comma and I do think there is a real difference. If others disagree, fine. As I said before, I really don't care. I'll use whatever punctuation my publisher wishes, so to make our publication process smoother. Were I self publishing I'd probably use the serial comma because I think it's logical. And should I have found a different publisher who used different rules, I can go with that. I'm easy to please.

I did laugh at your political take on the subject. I can imagine the next Republican debates, asking them "Do you use the serial comma or not? Which should Americans use?" and watching them stumble around.

Reminds me of the Monty Python sketch where they have Fidel Castro, Karl Marx, and I think Mao Tsetung on a panel, and ask them questions about British rugby.

Or in the Democrat debate, asking Hillary whether she uses the Oxford comma, and she'll reply "What difference does it make?"
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