Who gives a hoot about an Oxford Comma?

Published 24th March 2011
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The band Vampire Weekend asked this question (well, they didn’t say ‘hoot’ but this is a respectable blog) in their song Oxford Comma. Apparently, the song was inspired by the Society for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma, and the fact that many children these days are taught not to use it. The song made me wonder who does care about this little comma, and why all the fuss?

In case you didn’t know, an Oxford comma is when a comma is placed before the conjunction in a list of 3 or more things. For example, the sentence “I like eating chocolate, cake, and vegetables” has an Oxford (or serial) comma. Many people, including myself, believe that the extra comma removes ambiguity. “I like eating chocolate, cake and vegetables” could seem like someone likes eating cake and vegetables together, and could lead  to confusion. However there are others who believe the opposite, and say that it can cause confusion. This is because in some cases the use of an Oxford comma could be mistaken for an appositive phrase. Take the following phrase, for example: “My role models include my father, Gandhi, and the Pankhurst sisters. Now, I’m sure you know that my dad isn’t Gandhi, but you see the point I’m trying to make.

There are many arguments for and against the serial comma, and every style guide will have their own distinct reasons for encouraging or discouraging its use. Personally, I use the serial comma simply because I prefer the way it looks and the rhythym it provides. On the other hand, I’m sure that if I suspected it was causing ambiguity in my writing, I would stop using it. This issue does raise the question of whether people can tell if they’re being ambiguous, and I suspect that the answer to this question might be ‘no’ in most cases.

What do you think about this serial comma? Have you made a conscious decision to use or not use it, or do you follow a style guide? I’m interested to hear whether anyone has a strong opinion on this.



La banda americana Vampire Weekend se hace esta pregunta en una canción titulada Oxford Comma (bueno, con otras palabras que no voy a usar en un blog decente como este). Al parecer, la canción fue inspirada por la “Society for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma” (Sociedad para la Preservación de la coma de Oxford), y al hecho de que, hoy en día, a muchos niños se les enseña a no utilizarla. La canción me hizo plantearme: ¿a quién le preocupa esta pequeña coma, y a qué viene qué tanto alboroto?

Por si no lo sabes, la coma de Oxford es la que se coloca en inglés antes de la conjunción en una enumeración de 3 o más elementos (en español el uso de esta coma es incorrecto). En la frase en inglés “I like eating chocolate, cake, and vegetables” (Me gusta comer chocolate, pastel y verduras) la última coma es una coma de Oxford, también llamada coma serial. Varias personas, incluyéndome a mí, creen que la coma adicional elimina una posible ambigüedad. “I like eating chocolate, cake and vegetables” podría dar a entender que me gusta comer el pastel y las verduras juntas y causar confusión. Sin embargo, hay quienes piensan lo contrario y opinan que su uso puede causar confusión. Esto se debe a que en algunos casos el uso de una coma de Oxford podría confundirse con una aposición. Tomemos el siguiente ejemplo: “My role models include my father, Gandhi, and the Pankhurst sisters” (Mis modelos a seguir incluyen a mi padre, Gandhi, y a las hermanas Pankhurst). Bien, en este caso sabes seguro que mi padre no es Gandhi, pero entiendes lo que trato de decir.

Existen muchos argumentos a favor y en contra de la coma serial, y cada manual de estilo tiene sus propias razones para alentar o desalentar su uso. Personalmente, utilizo la coma serial simplemente porque prefiero el aspecto y ritmo que proporciona a la frase. Por otro lado, estoy segura de que dejaría de usarla si sospechara que estoy causando ambigüedad en mi escritura. En este punto se plantea la cuestión de si las personas pueden saber si están siendo ambiguos, y me temo que la respuesta a esta pregunta sería “no” en la mayoría de los casos.

¿Qué piensas tú acerca de esta coma? ¿has tomado tu decisión sobre usarla o no, o sigues un manual de estilo? Cuéntanos lo que opinas sobre el uso de esta coma.

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