Mighty Red Pen

January 3, 2008

Seriously serial

To serial comma or not to serial comma. That is the question.

MRP has worked at places where house style rabidly adhered to serial commas and at other places where house style rabidly abhored serial commas. I’ve also worked in a place where the serial comma was punctuation non grata and then suddenly was completely de rigueur.

I’ve declared myself personally agnostic on the issue; I tend to go with whatever house style I’m currently using at work. But I’m growing to prefer the serial comma for generally making things more clear, as illustrated by the famously apocryphal inscription, “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

Grammar Girl has a thorough exposition of the issues. And hat tip to Audubon for an amusing article about this issue. In it, Anthony Peyton Porter writes about making the transition from no serial commas to serial commas.

Serial commas not only soothe and reassure all who experience them, they add a pleasing rhythm and graceful cessation to any sentence. Try them for yourself, and you’ll see.

Do you agree?

7 Comments »

  1. In my personal writing I don’t always use them where others think they should be; however, like you, I follow whatever house style present if I am editing.

    Comment by Blue — January 4, 2008 @ 9:30 am | Reply

  2. If I’m the one who gets to pick the style, I pick serial commas, because it’s just less work. No wondering, “is this a sentence that could use one?” No “one person putting it in, the next coypeditor taking it out.”

    Just always put them in.

    As I get older, I want fewer and fewer judgment calls to make.

    Comment by TootsNYC — January 4, 2008 @ 10:56 am | Reply

  3. I’m guessing that the serial comma is what I know as the Oxford comma?

    Comment by JD — January 4, 2008 @ 12:19 pm | Reply

  4. I have used serial commas all my life and find that sentences read much more clearly when serial commas are present. The company I work for does not support serial comma usage, but I slip them in my work whenever I can get away with it. 😉

    Comment by The Grammarphile — January 7, 2008 @ 3:53 pm | Reply

  5. JD, Thanks for bringing up a detail I meant to mention. Yes, you folks in the UK know it as the Oxford comma — hereabouts they call it the Harvard comma. . .

    Comment by mightyredpen — January 15, 2008 @ 11:20 am | Reply

  6. Punctuation Man has come out of the AP Style Book closet and now endorses use of the Serial Comma

    http://www.nationalpunctuationday.com/serialcomma.html

    Comment by reader — February 28, 2008 @ 11:24 am | Reply

  7. Er, congratulations, Punctuation Man…!

    Comment by mightyredpen — February 29, 2008 @ 7:23 pm | Reply


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