bogwitch64: (Krohe)
[personal profile] bogwitch64
Commas--the bane of many a-writer's existence--were the hot topic at writing group last week. The when and the why and the how of commas is so difficult, I think, because even though there are rules, the rules change. The rules are also often ignored by those who don't agree with them. And though they are often invoked, there really is no such thing as the grammar police. More's the pity! Though, I have to admit to being far less prescriptive about it all than I've been in the past. There is always room for language and grammar to evolve--but when it's a matter of clarity, I don't see the reason to ignore a the serial (or Oxford) comma.

I went to the beach with Dinah my best friend and a hairdresser.

Without the commas, that sentence can mean my best friend is Dinah, that Dinah is a hairdresser, or that all three listed there are separate people.

I went to the beach with Dinah, my best friend and a hairdresser. = Dinah is my best friend. She is also a hairdresser.

I went to the beach with Dinah, my best friend, and a hairdresser. = I went to the beach with three separate and distinct people. Dinah. My best friend. A hairdresser.

So if it clarifies things, why not use it? The only argument I've seen or heard that makes any sense to me is that it's a space-saver. Journalists and newspapers seem to be the biggest proponents of leaving out this clarifying little bit curviness, though others have made less practical arguments:it is redundant, and most people are going to get the proper meaning without it. True. If one writes: I would like to invite my parents, Ron and Howard, if those you're addressing know that Ron and Howard aren't your parents, but two of your friends, then they'll probably get it. But what if they don't know?

I would like to invite my parents, Ron, and Howard. = inviting four people
I would like to invite my parents, Ron and Howard. = inviting two.

And sure, you can rearrange it so that the serial comma is NOT confusing (I would like to invite Ron, Howard and my parents.) but isn't remembering to do it that way every time squeezing your brain a bit hard to avoid that little punctuation?

As always, I am open to argument. Do you know of any reason not to use a serial comma? Do you use it? Does it give you explodey-brain trying to remember how it works? Talk to me--I'm listening.


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