Friday, September 30, 2011

Illustrating the Oxford Comma a.k.a. the Serial Comma and the Harvard Comma

Each of the following illustrations has been making the rounds lately. For your viewing pleasure, here they are in one place.

As best I can tell, credits for the Ayn Rand and God illustration are here and credits for the JFK and Stalin illustration are here.


Anonymous said...

Well, actually, as much as I love the serial comma and use it religiously, it is imperfect. For example, using the serial comma with the Ayn Rand example still has an ambiguity. Is Ayn Rand then an appositive, making "my parents" be Ayn Rand; or, her parents, and Ayn Rand, and God? Obviously the ambiguity can go away when you consider that Ayn Rand is a singular person and not "parents." However, I think that in the interest of precision a better solution here would be to correct the ambiguities with reordering, not with serial commas.

Thus, as much as I like the serial comma, it can create just as many ambiguities as the AP comma.

Given that there is no standard rule that everyone follows, there is always going to be ambiguity because the absence of the serial comma may then either have meaning or not. So, I prefer ironing out precision with word order so that no (reasonable) ambiguity can result.

Credit for the substance of this ambiguity comment goes to the Wikipedia article on the Oxford comma.

Anonymous said...


dennis hodgson said...

In my book, "Each" is singular.

Laura Payne said...

Dennis - Thank you. It is in mine too. I must have had a touch of Muphry's the day I wrote that.

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