Sunday, November 29, 2015

An American in Oxford...

Top of the afternoon all....

After my last blog post about the abuse of the English language, I thought it appropriate to to pause and chat about the comma.

Many of you have heard of the Oxford comma.  It is sometimes referred to as the Queen's comma.  It is the last comma in a set.  For example: I ate spaghetti, salad, and an orange.  The last comma in that sentence, separating salad from the orange, is the Oxford comma.  It is acceptable not to use it in certain circumstances.  There are, however, circumstances where it is absolutely necessary.

I would like to thank my friends, the Queen and the Prime Minister.
I would like to thank my friends, the Queen, and the Prime Minister.

As far as I can tell, these are two separate sentences.  In the first sentence, the phrase after the comma is an appositive.  An appositive is a noun or a noun phrase that explains or identifies the word right before it.  It is usually marked with a comma separating it from the noun being described (with thanks to the Purdue University grammar owl).  As such, the first sentence means that the Queen and the PM are my friends.

In the second sentence, I am thanking three distinct entities.  The Queen and the PM may or may not be my friends.  This second sentence has the Oxford comma.

Here is the interesting thing.  I learned about the Oxford comma in grade school, although we did not call it that.  That it is known either as the Oxford comma or the Queen's comma suggests that it should be important in British grammar.  I learned about it in the United States.  What makes this even more interesting is that I do not see it used that often living here in Canada, where one would presume that something that is common in British grammar might have more of an effect.

I always use it.  It is confusing when it is not present.

Have a great day.

By the way, I have updated my most recent entry on the abuses of the English language.  I am about to make one more change.  Hopefully, I can leave it alone.


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