Adventures in Writing—The Series Comma


I write for a living. (Which is pretty awesome if you ask me.) So there are daily arguments—mostly civil—about grammar. Which tense should this be in? Did you just end that sentence in a preposition? Who, whom, which or that? These  conversations stir up nostalgia for dinners at home—arguments about whether it’s James’ or James’s (still unresolved) over a homemade meal of Pizza Hut.

Most questions can be answered with a quick look into our most favoritist book—the AP Stylebook. Sometimes I agree with it, sometimes I don’t (it took them until 2011 to change “Web site” to “website”). Even so, I abide by its many rules.

One of the first AP Style rules you learn, which is now being adopted by other styles, is not to use a series comma (aka serial comma, aka Oxford comma). I honestly don’t have an opinion either way—I use it because AP says so. My natural writing style has become to not use the series comma except in complex sentences. For example:

I want ice cream.

Oops. I got off track there. Let’s try that again.

Simple: I had French toast, an English muffin and a British accent for breakfast.

Complex: I had orange juice, hash browns, and a bacon and egg bagel for dessert.

The series comma is a point of heated discussion in the writing world. There are those devoted to the non-use of it, and there are those devoted to the use of it. The former tend to be communications folks; the latter academia.

While I’m a non-user, I still find the following images humorous (click them to view full-size). They make you stop and go, “Hmm…did JFK and Stalin really hang out with each other?”

Megan's Meanderings Series Comma

See what they did there?

Series Comma Eggs

And there?

I had to read each of these a few times before I understood. And while I don’t exactly agree that these are correctly depicted, I do find them laughable.

There will forever be stylistic disagreements in grammar. Until they’re all resolved, I’ll keep my AP Stylebook close.

Advertisements