What is the Oxford Comma and do you Really Need to Give a Damn?

Sign reads: This, that and the otherThe Oxford Comma, should you really care about what it is? Some people think not.

The Oxford – or serial – comma is the one inserted just before the words “and” or “or” in the last item in a list of three or more items. That’s straightforward enough, but perform a simple search on the Internet on the search phrase “Oxford comma” and the results are sure to confuse you.

What is clear is that its presence, or lack thereof, is the subject of much debate. Many punctuation specialists argue that the use of an Oxford comma can make or break the meaning of a sentence, while others believe that it is an archaic outdated mark that should be confined to the past.

Read more: Comma rules everyone should master.

The truth is this: whether the Oxford comma is used is generally not so much of a big deal—you will see sentences on a daily basis both with and without it, and it really won’t cause you any serious issues. “I ran six miles, swam ten miles, and cycled twelve miles.” “I ran six miles, swam ten miles and cycled twelve miles.” Both sentences are perfectly fine and you won’t lose any credibility for the use of either of them. However, sometimes a missing Oxford comma can make a serious difference to the meaning of a sentence…

Picture showing why oxford commas are needed

In this case, the Oxford comma is needed to resolve ambiguity and, as such, it is sometimes helpful to the reader to use an isolated serial comma for clarification, even if the convention has not been adopted elsewhere in the document. The key to mastering this, as with many things relating to punctuation, is to consider the context. In deciding whether or not to use an Oxford comma, always keep in mind your intended meaning. If those items in your series or list are equal but individual, you should ensure that they are all separated equally, and commas throughout and before the last item will help to keep your meaning clear.

Need help with your punctuation? Take a look at our punctuation cheat sheet.

Should You Use a Colon or a Comma Before Quotation Marks?

Face drawn with punctuation marks, colon and commaMany people do not understand whether they should use a colon or a comma before quotation marks, to introduce direct speech. In truth, it doesn’t really matter, and if you are introducing a quotation by using words such as “he said,” “she commented,” “they asserted,” etc. using either a comma before the quotation mark or a colon before the quotation mark is perfectly acceptable. However, as a guide, it is generally advisable that you use commas to introduce quotations that consist of less than seven words and colons to introduce anything longer than that:

He approached Jane and nervously asked, “Would you like to go out tonight?” (fewer than seven words, comma used)

The teacher shouted: “I will not ask you again to sit down and be quiet.” (More than seven words, colon used)

That said, the majority of writers punctuate direct speech according to their personal preferences and they often switch between using a colon or a comma before quotation marks. It is acceptable to introduce the quotation using either of the punctuation marks and it is common for people to use colons and commas interchangeably in the same document depending upon the length of the pause that is necessary before the direct speech commences.

Looking for further assistance with punctuation? Check out our free punctuation cheat sheet.

What Punctuation Mark Should I Use? A Free Printable Punctuation Cheat Sheet

People who do not use punctuation deserve a long sentenceThere may be many occasions when you are composing a written document that you have to stop and ask yourself: “what punctuation mark should I use?

Punctuation marks can be very confusing, and there are endless lists and rules out there that dictate when you should, and should not, use them. If you are not fully confident with the rules that govern the use of punctuation marks, then our free printable punctuation cheat sheet may be just what you’re looking for. We have simplified the rules as much as possible and condensed them into a two-page cheat sheet that you can print out and refer to on a regular basis.

Read moreWhat Punctuation Mark Should I Use? A Free Printable Punctuation Cheat Sheet

A Humorous Look at The Importance of Punctuation

Punctuation is importantPunctuation is not really that important, right?  WRONG!  It’s very important, and a tiny, misplaced comma or question mark can cost millions of dollars or break someone’s heart. That’s why using native English proofreading services before publishing your work is so important.

Not convinced?

Take a look at some of these great examples of punctuation mistakes.  If you didn’t previously recognize the importance of punctuation, you will after seeing these!

Read moreA Humorous Look at The Importance of Punctuation