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  • Say you're helping plan a friend's party,

  • and he sends you a text

  • asking you to "bring Bob, a DJ and a clown."

  • You're pretty impressed.

  • You had no idea Bob was so multitalented.

  • But when the day arrives,

  • it turns out that he's not,

  • and you were supposed to bring three different people.

  • As you and Bob sit at the silent, clownless party,

  • it occurs to you that the confusion could've been avoided

  • simply by using another comma after DJ.

  • This final comma in a list,

  • placed directly before the main conjunction,

  • such as and, or, or nor,

  • is called the serial comma,

  • or Oxford comma.

  • And it has long driven grammar nerds crazy

  • because even major language institutions

  • can't agree on whether it should be used.

  • Ironically, the Oxford comma

  • is more common in the United States,

  • where it's recommended by

  • the MLA, the Chicago Style Manual,

  • and the US Government Printing Office,

  • though not by the AP Style Book.

  • In the UK and other English-speaking countries,

  • most style guides do not support the comma's use,

  • with the exception of its namesake,

  • the Oxford University Press.

  • Why not use the serial comma?

  • One of the main arguments

  • is that the conjunction is usually enough

  • to denote a separate entity.

  • And where it's not,

  • like in your ill-fated invite list,

  • changing the order of terms will usually do the job.

  • Journalists also dislike the comma

  • because it takes up precious space

  • and can make text look cluttered.

  • Sometimes, it can even create confusion of its own.

  • For example,

  • if your friend had asked for "Bob,

  • a DJ and a puppy,"

  • you'd probably figure out

  • that they're three separate beings.

  • Puppies are cute,

  • but they don't make great DJs.

  • With the comma,

  • you may think

  • Bob is the DJ,

  • and all you need is him and the puppy.

  • The argument over the Oxford comma

  • has raised such strong passions over the years

  • that a sort of truce has been reached.

  • The common wisdom is that

  • its use is optional,

  • and depends on whether it will help

  • to avoid confusion.

  • For one thing,

  • you're supposed to keep your use or avoidance

  • of the Oxford comma

  • consistent throughout a whole piece of writing.

  • So, using it only where necessary

  • is not an option.

  • And the very idea

  • of a grammatical rule being optional

  • is a bit odd.

  • Imagine that you hadn't messed up the party planning,

  • and read the next day that "everyone had a great time -

  • ninjas, pirates, vikings, old and young."

  • If the Oxford comma were standard,

  • you would notice it missing

  • and conclude that old and young

  • must describe the awesome guests already listed.

  • But as things stand,

  • you will always wonder

  • whether it means

  • that a bunch of regular, boring kids and old people

  • showed up as well.

  • Ultimately, the serial comma may be useful or annoying,

  • but your opinion on it,

  • as for many optional things,

  • probably has something to do

  • with whichever style you were raised on.

  • Your high school teachers favored it?

  • It's likely you're still using it.

  • Your first editor hated it?

  • You probably do, too.

  • And maybe so much hairsplitting

  • over a tiny squiggle on a page

  • is a bit silly.

  • After all,

  • there are so many bigger problems

  • to worry about.

  • But sometimes, little things can make a big difference.

Say you're helping plan a friend's party,

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B1 TED-Ed comma oxford serial optional style

【TED-Ed】Grammar's great divide: The Oxford comma - TED-Ed

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    阿多賓 posted on 2014/03/20
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