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Comma dilemma

This blog will attempt to follow the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., except where it doesn't.

Chicago, you may know, prefers that writers use the Oxford (or serial) comma. I used to be a strong opponent of this punctuation mark, supporting instead the idea that wherever punctuation can be eliminated, it should be. (Perhaps hypocritically, my writing also employs hordes of semicolons and em-dashes—an issue for another day.) So* what about this thing, the Oxford comma? [If you don't know what it is, read this, for example—and while you're there you might see if you can identify the grammatical mistake that I believe the author makes in example #4.**]

My evolving preferences have long been based somewhat on peer pressure: Those places I have worked recently that prefer the Oxford are rabid about it when it's inadvertently left out, whereas those who prefer dropping it throw nary a fit when it creeps in. I use it in my CV and cover letters, to show, I guess, that I can (and that I am able to stick to Chicago). In my other writing, especially pre-2022, I usually dropped it except where it added clarity or avoided confusion.

All this swinging back and forth between the comma's use and disuse has had me confused about my own preferences. I like to follow one stylebook, but the serial comma does feel unnecessary at times. I think I will stick to my original inclination: cut punctuation where it is not required by convention or needed for clarity.

* Some persnickety grammarians would insist a comma is needed after this introductory 'So.' I'm with Chicago and others who specify that it depends on intonation as well as whether what follows is extremely long, in which case it could be seen to indicate a breath before expressing the sentence. So it's optional.

** The list is not parallel; the final "a" means the three items in the list are not formed the same way; the others do not use the indefinite article. It should be dropped.


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