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MURDER IN THE AIR! BEWARE THE SERIAL COMMA!

By DebJune 26, 2015in Punctuation1

Commas are constantly overused, underused, and misplaced.  In my opinion, commas are one of the most important punctuation marks we have!

Read these two sentences and notice the difference a comma makes:  Let’s eat grandma!  Let’s eat, grandma!  COMMAS SAVE LIVES!

Have you heard about the dreaded serial comma?  No, it’s not a serial killer, but it has been known to cause rifts between friends, co-workers and even countries.

The serial comma is very much in use in American English.  My go-to reference book, The Chicago Manual of Style, recommends using it.  In British English (think Canada) it is much less common.

The serial or series comma (also called the Oxford comma) is placed immediately before the final conjunction in a list of three or more items (usually and, or, nor).  The main argument against using the serial comma is, if the list contains only single words, leaving it out doesn’t change anything.

Here is a sentence where the serial comma definitely helps to keep the meaning clear:

I made a variety of sandwiches for the luncheon: egg salad, chicken salad, peanut butter and jelly, and ham and cheese.

What are your thoughts on the serial comma?  Do you use it in all your writing, or only when you feel it’s absolutely necessary?  Are you passionate about the serial comma, or do you just not care?  I want to hear what you have to say…

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ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “MURDER IN THE AIR! BEWARE THE SERIAL COMMA!”

  1. Sandyjdub says:

    I am a great believer in the serial comma, especially when I am doing the writing. However, if I am editing a document that omits the serial comma, I generally allow it to be absent as long as two conditions are met: (1) the meaning is clear, and (2) it’s not a formal document. For example, when editing newsletter articles that have a casual style, I usually don’t add a serial comma. Leaving it out can contribute to a conversational style that some writers prefer. On the other hand, if I am editing an investigative article with a more formal style, then I ensure that the serial comma appears in its rightful spot.

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