Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Never-ending Debate: The Oxford--or Serial--Comma | Garbl's Style: Write Choices

And so it continues. Today's edition of my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, spontaneously contained three articles on the topic of the oxford--or serial--comma. I modified the paper to highlight them at the top.

That comma, if you don't already know, goes before the conjunction (and, but, or) in a series of three or more people, places, ideas or things. The debate: Must it always be inserted, or can it be inserted only when needed?

Here are links to the articles in today's paper:

Mignon Fogarty's Grammar Girl column includes the infographic by OnlineSchools but also links to a couple of her past related columns. 

I also have commented before in this blog on this topic, noting my background in journalism and using the Associated Press Stylebook

But for now, here's what I advise in the comma entry of Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. I'll just note that using that comma is never wrong, grammatically, though your boss,  editor, or employer style manual might disagree, stylistically:
First, in a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term: She opened the closet, grabbed a coat, and picked up an umbrella. In a complex series of phrases, the serial comma before the final conjunction aids readability. In a simple series, the comma is optional before the conjunction: The van is economical, roomy and dependable. Also, put a comma before the final conjunction in a series if an integral element of the series needs a conjunction: He likes folk, rock, and rhythm and blues. Don't put a comma before the first item in a series or after the and in a series. See lists, semicolon.
lists ...
When listing information in paragraph form, use commas to separate items in the list if the items are brief and have little or no internal punctuation. If the items are complex, separate them with semicolons. To stress sequence, order or chronology of list items, begin each item with a number or letter enclosed in parentheses or followed by a period.
semicolon (;) The semicolon has three main uses, although the first use below is the most common. The semicolon shows a greater separation of thought and information than a comma but less separation than a period.
First, use semicolons to separate parts of a series when at least one item in the series also has a comma. A semicolon also goes before the final and in such a series: Attending were Tina Lopez, 223 Main St.; Ron Larson, 1414 Broadway; and Robert Zimmerman, 1976 E. Pine St. ...
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My Write Choices paper is availabe at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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