Monday Microscope: The Right Way to Comma

Today, on Monday Microscope we have got an interesting query regarding the mysterious Oxford Comma.

I have been a part of a local writer’s group  and have recently been getting feedback about the inappropriate usage of comma in my writings. The more I read about it, the more confusing it all seems to me. Can you please demystify it for me?Sheetal

Sounds relatable, doesn’t it?

Sometimes, a comma is all that stands between you and cannibalism!

Commas are used to give a pause in a piece of text. They are also used to give emphasis and to clear ambiguity and confusion. As a result, they can save you from becoming a cannibal! Don’t believe us? Check this out:

Pratibha finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog.

That doesn’t sound quite right! Pratibha comes across as a cruel witch who wouldn’t stop at throwing her family (and her faithful dog) into the soup cauldron. The mental image one has, is of a wrinkled old crone tucking in her napkin at her throat with eyes gleaming maniacally. Nasty, right? But if you write thus:

    Prathibha finds inspiration in cooking, her family, and her dog.

You heave a sigh of relief because Pratibha isn’t such a monster at all. In fact, she sounds just like you!

A comma protects you from other similar disasters. Here are a few more rules regarding use of commas. You’d rather not be accused of cannibalism, wouldn’t you?

The Oxford Comma

Consider the following sentence:

Reshma was excited about her trip to Jaipur, Udaipur and Bikaner.

There is nothing wrong with it. This is an acceptable way of writing the sentence. The meaning is clear and there is no ambiguity.

The sentence could also be written with an oxford comma which is a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, including before ‘and’ or ‘or’. Hence, if you followed the oxford comma rule, you would write the above sentence like this:

Reshma was excited about her trip to Jaipur, Udaipur, and Bikaner.

The first example (i.e., “… cooking, her family, and her dog”) also used an oxford comma. In simple sentences like the one above, there doesn’t seem any reason for the oxford comma to be inserted. It is redundant here. But what if the sentence were like this:

    Today’s menu includes eggs and toast idly and chutney and sandwiches.

This sentence is confusing. It is not clear if the series include eggs and toast, [idly and chutney] and [sandwiches]? Or is it [idly] and [chutney and sandwiches]? The oxford comma can clear up the confusion instantly.

    Today’s menu includes eggs and toast, idly and chutney, and sandwiches.

Misuse of the Comma:

Sometimes a comma is used to between two thoughts because they are connected to each other. This kind of usage is known as a comma splice.

Here’s an example of a comma splice:

I went to the circus with Radha, I saw horses and elephants there.

Ugly, isn’t it? It is better to use one of the other punctuations for such a construct. Like:

Period: I went to the circus with Radha. I saw horses and elephants there.
Semicolon: I went to the circus with Radha; I saw horses and elephants there.
Conjunction: I went to the circus with Radha and saw horses and elephants there.

There are a few more strange usages of the comma one comes across from time to time. We will cover those in another post. Do you have any other comma related query you’d like us to address?

Do feel free to send us your questions either by email or you can leave a comment here for us to cover it in the next Monday Microscope.

IMG-20180423-WA0003This week’s question has been answered by one of our core team members, Ms. Dagny Sol who is a passionate bibliophile. Her love for the written word is deep and enduring. She firmly believes that when words come together to fashion a book, magic happens.The combination of language skills and passion for words, help make her an efficient editor.  

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