If you’ve written anything in the last 35 years, you may have gotten conflicting advice about the necessity of using certain commas. The Oxford comma has been the subject of great debate during this time (I kid you not!) with people standing firmly in one of two camps.
What The Heck is An Oxford Comma and Who Cares?
The Oxford comma, sometimes called the serial comma, is the punctuation that occurs just before a coordinating conjunction in a series of three or more items.
For example, in the below sentence,
Ross pulled himself heavily to his feet, picked up his glass, and drained the last bit of iced tea.
OH! Those commas!
You probably either always use them or never do. See, you might have your own opinion about the Oxford comma but didn’t know it! 🙂
So, why is this one little punctuation mark so hotly debated? Well, many would argue it’s more stylistic than necessary
There are two schools of thought on the Oxford comma (okay, three…):
They should always be usedto avoid any confusion for the reader.
- They are unnecessary in most cases, so don’t worry about using them
—unless the sentence could be totally misread without one.
- If you write properly, you don’t need them.
The reason for such differing opinions about this little comma is that humans use language. And, since humans are always changing (we hope evolving), so does our language. Grammar rules and stylistic no-no’s go in and out of favor. When I was in middle school,
Are you asking yourself why I’m discussing the pros and cons of the Oxford comma??
Because, in the first scene of my new book in the Digital Detective Mystery series, Libel to Kill two wanna-be authors are
See for yourself how the book opens:
“No, no, no,” Bernadette “Bernie” Comer said sharply. “I’ve told you, the Oxford comma is vital for clarity.”
Phyllis Buckley straightened in her chair. “Well, I have a brand-spankin’ new grammar book that says it’s up to the writer’s whether to use ‘em.”
“I was taught in school to always use them, and I stick by that.” Bernie sternly nodded her head once as if determining the matter was settled.
The weekly meeting of the Writing Alliance Circle, or WAC, was in full swing, as was evident from the argument that periodically resurfaced. During each meeting, writers have the chance to get feedback on their work-in-progress. It was sheer bad luck Phyllis had landed with Bernie this week.
“You were in school back when Moses brought the stone tablets down from the mountain. I hardly think we can go off that antiquated advice,” Phyllis’ voice grew loud.
I knew where this was leading, and it was nowhere good. I looked at the ceiling, gathering my patience. I stood and headed over to them. I needed to intervene before they came to blows.
Bernie huffed and crossed her arms over her ample chest. “Phyllis Buckley, you are older than me. How dare you bring my age into
Why Did I Start The First Scene This Way?
The theme for Libel to Kill is overcoming societal conventions that hold us back from being who we truly are. When I was plotting the book,
Below are just a few of the sentences using the Oxford comma from Libel to Kill:
- This is what I’d hoped for when I’d started the group—an intimate band of wanna-be authors coming together to share our joys, frustrations, and feedback.
- In the drainer beside the sink, Bernie had neatly stacked
a couple ofplates, a glass, silverware, and a teapot.
- She [Ellie] slammed her fork down on the table, stood up, and dashed up the stairs.
- Up close, I could see she [Marjory] had a rash on her neck, face, and hands.
- Attempting to stay
objective, I wrote the sins Bernie had assigned, along with any details about their motive, means, and opportunity, next to each name.
- Bernie had an ample supply of toilet paper, hand towels, and wash clothes under the sink, along with her disposable hypodermic syringes.
- Evan, Ned, and Reverend Holt could lose their businesses or vocation if their indiscretions came out.
- She [Phyllis] perked up a little, dragging out lists of
possiblecaterers, swatches for bridesmaid dresses, and a list of songs they’d like the band to play.
- The first couple of pages listed chapters, the characters, and their indiscretions bulleted underneath.
- Both [Bernie’s kids] had sandy-brown hair cut in easy-to-maintain styles, were tallish, and dressed in basic jeans and plain t-shirts.
- Feeling dejected after my discussion with Bernie’s kids, I pushed aside my plate, put my elbow on the table, and anchored my chin on my fist.
Libel to Kill Synopsis
With her usual sidekicks too preoccupied with their own dramas,
Libel to Kill is now available! Amazon
Find out how Jade Blackwell got her sleuthing start..
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Posted by Gilian Baker. Gilian is a former English professor who has
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Shannon EspositoJune 5, 2019 at 9:09 am
Haha! I’ve actually watched these debates on social media with great amusement. I personally don’t use them, just because I’m a minimalist in every area of my life. But I don’t have a strong opinion on them one way or the other. Definitely a fun way to start out a mystery! Best of luck with the release 🙂
Gilian BakerJune 5, 2019 at 3:53 pm
Thanks, Shannon! I didn’t use them for years. And then, when I started my ghostwriting agency, so many clients wanted them used that I just gave in. Now I find myself using them even when I don’t have to! I guess I’ve given in to societal convention! Oh, no! 🙁
Kassandra LambJune 10, 2019 at 3:08 pm
Great post, Gilian!! Who’d have thought that the Oxford comma debate could be funny … Thanks for reminding us not to take our commas too seriously. 😀
I’m of the “only use them when you have to” school of thought myself, but I don’t feel strongly about it.