Monday, June 18, 2012
Editing for Grammarphobes: To Use or Not To Use
It has been about a year since a press release by the Oxford University Press set off a firestorm of debate by grammarians over the usage of the serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma.
As you might recall, both Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and The Chicago Manual of Style encourage it, while the Associate Press Stylebook recommends removing it, unless it makes the sentence difficult to understand.
Coming from the journalism world, I am for deleting it when the list is made up of only three items, such as in the following sentence.
In the summer, I enjoy Pimm’s Cups, margaritas and sangria.
No need to add another piece of punctuation, right?
However, when the list is much longer, or includes a phrase with the word “and” in it, I think the comma should stay.
Here’s an example.
The lunch menu featured turkey and avocado wraps, a cobb salad, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Not the greatest of offerings, I know, but gourmand preferences aside, if one leaves the comma out before the “and,” the sentence looks awkward. By using the serial comma, every offering on the lunch menu is a distinct item. The comma sets each apart visually, which works here.
What do you think? Which style do you follow?