Serial Comma User

Are you a serial comma user? I am. Do you know what it means to be a serial comma user? I did a bit of research to figure out whether there was a right or wrong way (or a right side and a wrong side) of the serial comma discussion. There are two camps. The one that says you should use the comma and the one that says it is not necessary, but no clear direction either way. A few months ago I finished reading the book: “How to Not Write Bad” by Ben Yagoda. This is what he says about commas:

“In a series of three or more items, do you put a comma after the penultimate one (right before the and or or)? That’s another trick question. If you are writing for the Associated Press, the answer is no. If you are writing for the New Yorker or the Oxford University Press, the answer is yes. (The OUP is so well known for this protocol that it has come to be referred to as ‘the Oxford comma.’) If you’re writing for yourself, the key thing–as in style choices generally–is consistency: choose a style you like, and stick with it.” page 51

I prefer to add the extra comma for clarity sake, but some have been trained from earlier on in school or their career to handle the serial comma a specific way. It messes with me a bit because I feel that there should be a clear rule on serial comma usage. I know you may think, seriously, Tami is this what you think about? But when thinking about business or corporate communications one wants to follow a standard, but if there is no standard…what is one to do?

Here are a few different takes on serial comma usage. Wikipedia and then an article from NPR. I agree with Yagoda, that when writing for yourself to choose consistency, but I think it really should be the same at work, regardless of if you work for the Oxford University Press, or the Oregonian. Why am I for the comma before the and/or? I feel like when you are listing it, if there is no comma where there should be one that it groups the words together. I will give you and example from “Grammar Girl:”

“Here’s a sentence that could mean different things with and without the final comma: Rebecca was proud of her new muffin recipes: blueberry, peanut butter and chocolate chip and coconut. Without a serial comma, you can’t be sure whether the last recipe is a combination of peanut butter and chocolate chip or a combination of chocolate chip and coconut.”

It is the little things, but sometimes the little things build up over time. Right? What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Serial Comma User

  1. The little things surely do build up over time. Who knew that a tiny little punctuation mark could shed such light on an important subject? 😉 By the way, I’m with OUP out of pure habit. However, in my eternal stubbornness, I will violate every grammar law in the books if it helps to convey a message or story in a more meaningful way 🙂


  2. Hmmm. First I learned grammar rules using the final comma, then in early journalism re-learned to leave it out. After reading your blog, I think I’ll rethink commas. Your preference sounds better and definitely less ambiguous to me too. I’m now going to revert to early-established habits, sound reasoning, and more commas!


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