Comma and Oxford Comma. A Quick Grammar Guide

Any writer knows how much research and effort he has to put to surprise his readers. Apart from choosing the right subject to catch his audience’s attention, a writer should also pay attention to the words he uses to transmit the right message. But, words are not enough to create a memorable piece. You will also need punctuation and an appropriate style to impress your audience. Every piece of punctuation can make a difference in your writing style. Comma, for example, can significantly change the message you want to transmit to your audience. So, keep reading this article and discover more about comma and Oxford comma and how to properly use it.

What is an Oxford comma?

You’ve probably used it many times already and didn’t even know that the last comma in a sentence is called Oxford comma. Also known as Harvard or serial comma, the Oxford comma comes before the conjunction in a list. For example, in the phrase: “My favorite cheese is Emmental, Gouda, and Brie”, the Oxford comma is the one before the conjunction “and”.

How important is Oxford comma?

It is clear that a comma can significantly change the meaning of a phrase. However, the Oxford comma is optional. If you are a professional writer or journalist, you will see that you will need it to transmit the right message to your audience. For example, you want to write about your fictional character Angela who met her ex-boyfriend on the holiday. If you would write the phrase in the following way: “Angela met her ex-boyfriend, a florist and pet lover”. What would you understand from this phrase? Angela’s ex-boyfriend works as a florist and he is also a pet lover. But, what if you would use an Oxford comma before the conjunction “and”? The phrase would look as follows: “Angela met her ex-boyfriend, a florist, and a pet lover”. How does the phrase’s meaning change now? The conclusion would be that Angela met not only with her boyfriend but also with a florist and a pet lover. So, before using the Oxford comma you should clearly define what message you want to send to your audience.

Benefits of using Oxford comma

One of the biggest benefits that Oxford comma brings to a text is clarity. Oxford comma helps you eliminate ambiguity in your text and improve its readability. It happens many times that writers don’t use commas just because they understand what they are writing. However, even though you know what you are writing about, your readers don’t know the entire context and they might misinterpret your text. In addition, style guides like the Chicago Manual of Style, or the American Medical Association are very clear in recommending Oxford comma to improve a text’s clarity. On the other hand, Oxford University is not very strict in imposing the use of Oxford comma. Their recommendation is to use Oxford comma only when the audience might misinterpret the message.

Conclusion

Although we hear very often that it is very important to use commas and follow grammar rules, you should pay attention to not fall into the trap of using too many commas. Read the grammar rules and include commas only when it is necessary. Moreover, keep your text readable and clear. Thus, your audience will trust you and you will win their loyalty.

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