Talk:Serial comma

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Arguments Against Section[edit]

I was reading this article and came to the "arguments for and against" part. One of the arguments against was, "that use of the comma is against conventional practice." I don't understand this as an argument against it; indeed, the citation is simply another book about English. There are many sources (and legitimate authorities in English; surely a book does not solely determine what is "conventional practice" simply by calling itself The Facts of English?) listed later in the article that are both for and against the use of the serial comma. Thus, how can we say that not using it is the norm, when the rest of the article takes an entirely neutral point of view? I feel like there are of course arguments for both sides of the issue, but this is not a legitimate one.

I think that bullet point should be removed.Stever Augustus (talk) 22:22, 23 November 2009 (UTC)

Are you saying that this isn't an accurate summary of the position of the book, or that you don't agree with the postion of the book, or that "against conventional practice" is not an "argument for"? Chrisrus (talk) 23:22, 23 November 2009 (UTC)
I'm saying that "against conventional practice" isn't an argument against its use because this statement only offers one source's opinion that it is "against conventional practice." There are multiple sources later in the article that both support and oppose its use, but why should this source be the one that determines what is and isn't "conventional practice?" Stever Augustus (talk) 04:35, 24 November 2009 (UTC)
As I understand it, the book is being used as a reference to the fact that this argument is used, not that it actually is "against conventional practice". I think the article makes it clear that "conventional practice" changes, depending on the convention. Thehalfone (talk) 10:29, 15 December 2009 (UTC)
Why are there any arguments for or against? This section presupposes that there should be a blanket rule - you are either for the Oxford comma, or against it. No room for people who might use it in some situations but not in others, then. This section needs to be balanced with another section that discusses in which situations the form is considered appropriate. Style guidance is just one of these. Unfortunately, I personally cannot be arsed writing such a section (talk) 16:40, 5 February 2012 (UTC)
I came across this article and am equally confused about that sentence. You cannot make the argument that conventional practice favours the Oxford comma, when an argument against its use is that it is not conventional practice.–Totie (talk) 11:07, 24 December 2015 (UTC)

Series/serial comma[edit]

First two contributions copied from User talk:Rreagan007 and User talk:Snalwibma, because it seems better here, and maybe others have some opinions to offer

Sorry about that. I was a bit hasty! You are clearly right - though I don't think it's a very common name for it. SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 20:03, 11 December 2009 (UTC)

"series comma" is actually the name for it that I was taught in grade school and I think it benefits the article to have it as an alternate name, but if you think it's too obscure I won't put it back in if you take it out. However, if it's left in, it gives the opportunity to use a serial comma in the very first line of the article to separate Oxford comma from Harvard comma, which I sort of like also. Rreagan007 (talk) 20:09, 11 December 2009 (UTC)
I disagree with your last point. I think it's a good idea to avoid all sentence constructions in the article where the question "should a serial comma be used here?" arises. Otherwise we end up with silly arguments between the pro- and anti-serial-comma camps about how the article should be written. You think it's a neat idea to insert a comma between Oxford and Harvard in the first sentence, so you insert it; I think it should be removed, so I remove it. And so it goes on. I think it would be better to rewrite that sentence to avoid the issue - and I'd suggest something like "The serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma or Harvard comma, and occasionally as the series comma)". Any thoughts, anyone? SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 20:28, 11 December 2009 (UTC)
You do realize there is another serial comma in the very next line: "(usually and, or, and sometimes nor)" Rreagan007 (talk) 20:32, 11 December 2009 (UTC)
Not any more, there isn't! Though actually that one wasn't quite a straightforward serial comma, more of a somewhat suspect syntactical construction. SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 20:52, 11 December 2009 (UTC)
Hmm, having 2 or's in a row seems odd to me. Rreagan007 (talk) 20:54, 11 December 2009 (UTC)

Wikipedia's Viewpoint?[edit]

Is there a specific preference for Wikipedia articles (to my understanding which are generally written in American English)? If there is, should it be mentioned in this article? Do other language construct articles list which Wikipedia uses? Dataxpress (talk) 06:00, 25 January 2010 (UTC)

MOS:SERIAL: "Editors may use either convention on Wikipedia". --Old Moonraker (talk) 08:07, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
... because (again, it's all in WP:MOS) Wikipedia articles are not "written in American English". No doubt American editors are in the majority, and therefore it is true that there are more American-English than British-English articles - but there is a clear policy that both forms (and others) are allowed. One example of an article on a major topic that uses British English (and constantly has to be corrected back to that style!) is In vitro fertilisation (note the spelling with an S). SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 08:19, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
Specifically, see section Wikipedia:ENGVAR. I think the Wikipedia policy is a separate issue and shouldn't be included in the article itself. Tayste (talk / contrib) 08:36, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
I agree. Was that what Dataxpress was suggesting? If so, then I'm against it! SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 08:43, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
Seems I missed the point: no, not encyclopaedic. --Old Moonraker (talk) 11:17, 25 January 2010 (UTC)

That was my first question I had left unanswered after reading this article, what to do on wikipedia? Should at least be included under "see also", so I'll add that. Mathmo Talk 02:51, 19 May 2010 (UTC)

I'm not sure it belongs in the article. That's rather self-referential and seems very odd to me. I was about to find a justification in WP:SELF, but now I see the edit has been reverted. -Phoenixrod (talk) 04:18, 19 May 2010 (UTC)
Well I'd seen it under "See Also" under a lot of other articles so I thought it made sense, or the other alternative is italics at the top like with COI. Mathmo Talk 08:00, 21 May 2010 (UTC)
The hatnote seems like a fine solution. -Phoenixrod (talk) 21:41, 29 May 2010 (UTC)
Well, the question could also be asked, where do you go IF you want to know whether WP has a "comma policy"? There are how many different policies - and how many on just language variations? I didn't actually know that it was primarily a difference between British and American English (I use it, and like it), so I would have no reason to particularly think of looking for "English vs. British" in the WP policies. So I typed into Google "wikipedia oxford comma", expecting it to come up with a "WP:" page. This is the closest bone that it found.. So I would vote it being appropriate to mention on the page. There isn't even a mention of the word "Wikipedia" anywhere in the article.. Jimw338 (talk) 03:05, 26 March 2012 (UTC)
Agreed: I shouldn't have to go to this talk page to find out Wikipedia's policy. Yes, including it is "rather self-referential", but why can't Wikipedia be encyclopedic about itself? Excluding it seems needlessly pedantic. Hga (talk) 18:38, 9 December 2012 (UTC)

I added a link to the Wikipedial Manual of Style since I went to this page for exactly this reason. As I said in the comment of my edit, "Add info on the wikipedia manual of style. Wikipedia is one of the largest group edited bodies of text that exists; it's guide on this issue is relevant to the topic." There are many places that take English text from several dialects of English. Understanding how a site like wikipedia handles the issue is relevant to people. Kevin Lyda (talk) 15:06, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

Comments to editors within the text[edit]

I placed a comment within the text but it was removed again, with an edit summary saying that editors should read the article. Yes, I agree they should, but some anonymous editors don't. My comment was to dissuade (mainly anonymous) editors from inserting serial commas within the article, since it uses British English. What's wrong with having the comment there? Tayste (edits) 23:17, 5 February 2010 (UTC)

Nothing. The comment was addressed to the editor who inserted the serial comma - our reverts seem to have overlapped. -- Ian Dalziel (talk) 23:24, 5 February 2010 (UTC)
Well, I meant it for future such editors. Tayste (edits) 00:36, 6 February 2010 (UTC)
I'll try again. My comment "Revert. Editors of the entry about serial commas should read it." was intended as a reply to "The entry about serial commas should use them.". Removal of your inline comment was an accident, for which I apologise, grovel and abase myself. All right? I'd put it back, but I don't think it's quite right as it stands (or rather doesn't stand). Use of the serial comma isn't as simple as a US/UK distinction. -- Ian Dalziel (talk) 11:53, 6 February 2010 (UTC)
True, it could be worded better. How best to leave a message to future editors (especially anonymous ones who don't read the talk page) to avoid trivial such edits? Yes, in some circumstances UK English still uses it, but in that first spot in the lead it just looks wrong to me. Tayste (edits) 19:34, 6 February 2010 (UTC)
Better still might be to avoid the need for such a note by avoiding all sentence constructions in which the question "should there be a serial comma?" arises. The parenthesis in the first sentence in currently (I think) the only place in the article where this is a problem (apart, of course, from the various examples). How about changing it to something like "alternatively series comma, Oxford comma, Harvard comma" – or maybe "also known as the Oxford comma or Harvard comma, and occasionally as the series comma"? Just a thought! SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 22:20, 6 February 2010 (UTC)
I like the way you're thinking. Is it really known as the series comma? How often is this term used? Can we ditch it? Tayste (edits) 04:37, 7 February 2010 (UTC)
I guess not, after a bit of googling. Tayste (edits) 04:41, 7 February 2010 (UTC)
I agree. See above for some earlier discussion on "series comma", and indeed on whether the article should use serial commas. I think your solution is excellent, BTW. SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 10:25, 7 February 2010 (UTC)

Ambiguity in first section[edit]

The second paragraph begins like so:

"Opinions vary among writers and editors on the usage or avoidance of the serial comma. In American English it is standard in most non-journalistic writing, which typically follows the Chicago Manual of Style. Journalists, however, usually follow the Associated Press Style Guide, which advises against it. It is less often used in British English."

But since opinions are said to vary "on the usage or avoidance" of the serial comma, we can't be sure what the "it" is in the next three sentences. Is it the use of the comma, or its avoidance?"

I genuinely don't know.

William Knorpp —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:52, 4 March 2010 (UTC)

Unless I'm missing something, all three sentences clearly say "the serial comma". -- Ian Dalziel (talk) 18:55, 4 March 2010 (UTC)
I have changed "it" to "the serial comma" in the second sentence. I believe this change should clear up even the possibility of ambiguity. -Phoenixrod (talk) 20:53, 5 March 2010 (UTC)

More nuanced expression required?[edit]

I wonder if some of the confusion here is caused by the fact that the article is not written carefully enough in a few places. Some interpretations on the talk page seem to be based on the assumption that the serial comma is the norm, and any particular instance where it is omitted is a one-off omission, either an error (or laziness) on the part of the writer or a decision to omit it in this particular instance. In fact, of course, the omission of a serial comma is not a one-off omission but adherence to an alternative norm. And, as a reader, it's not as if you are reading a passage full of serial commas, and then suddenly come across a "missing" one. The whole of what you are reading is written acording to the no-serial-comma convention. Would it be easier to grasp if the whole article was expressed more clearly in terms of different conventions rather than specific instances? For example, should "Use of the serial comma can sometimes remove ambiguity" be rewritten as something like "The style that always uses the serial comma may be less likely to result in ambiguity"? And should "Common arguments against the serial comma" become "Common arguments against consistent usage of the serial comma in simple lists"? I wonder also if we should more carefully refer to the avoidance of a serial comma in simple lists, rather than a more blanket avoidance of the serial comma, to acknowledge that the no-serial-comma convention does use one where the items in the list are complex, or wherever it is needed to make the meaning clear? SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 08:29, 15 March 2010 (UTC)

This would be a welcome improvement, subject only to a minor reservation about "Common arguments against consistent usage of the serial comma in simple lists", which seems a bit cumbersome; perhaps just "In simple lists..." or similar. Otherwise: soon as you like!--Old Moonraker (talk) 09:30, 15 March 2010 (UTC)

Strunk and White oppose, rather than support[edit]

Since this page tells us that Strunk and White advise use a comma after each term except the last, shouldn't Strunk and White be listed as opposing the serial comma? As of now, Tuesday, August 31, 2010, 6:04 PM EDT, the article shows Strunk and White listed among those supporting mandatory use, but it seems to me that the article's telling us they oppose its use. Mooncaine (talk) 22:11, 31 August 2010 (UTC)

No, they support the serial comma. Take this example: I like A, B, and C. There is no comma after the last item (C), but it's a serial comma. I think it's clearer in examples where the sentence doesn't end with the list, as in I like A, B, and C for breakfast. -Phoenixrod (talk) 00:06, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
See also the examples at Bartleby under section 2. -Phoenixrod (talk) 00:08, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Of course, Strunk & White support. They give "red, white, and blue" as an example, and they also reference the US GPO manual, which supports. Pechmerle (talk) 03:06, 25 June 2011 (UTC)

Punctuation of parenthetical thought[edit]

The lead currently begins like this: The serial comma (also known as the series comma, Oxford comma or Harvard comma). I see some recent edits have inserted or removed the serial comma from the list of three. I'm curious what this article should do, so I thought I'd start a discussion as neutrally as possible. An argument in favor of its use in the parenthetical thought is that it demonstrates the article's concept. An argument against its use is that the serial comma is not standard in some countries or styles. I have a feeling editors will come along and try to "fix" it one way or the other. Can we decide which to prefer, or possibly rewrite it to avoid a potential edit war? -Phoenixrod (talk) 19:29, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

We in fact have a nascent edit war forming. By analogy to WP:ENGVAR, it seems pretty clear that serial commas should get used in an article on serial commas; I would like to hear from the opponents of the serial comma in that phrase... -kcr 20:32, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

Perhaps you could expand on the analogy to WP:ENGVAR? I'd have said if there was an analogy, it would imply that the article should not be unnecessarily "corrected". The article says at some length that the serial comma is neither "correct" nor "incorrect". Why should an article on the serial comma use serial commas? Should an article on France be in French? -- Ian Dalziel (talk) 22:22, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
I think that parenthesis in the first sentence is the only place in the article where the issue of whether to use a serial comma currently arises. In order to avoid an edit war (and Ian Dalziel is right - there is just as strong an argument for avoiding the serial comma as for using it, in an article on the subject), I suggest the best solution is to rewrite it so as to avoid the issue. How about "The serial comma (alternative names: series comma, Oxford comma, Harvard comma)"? Or something like "The serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma or Harvard comma, and sometimes referred to as the series comma)"? Or "The serial comma or series comma (also known as the Oxford comma or Harvard comma)"? SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 06:09, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
That's the kind of wording I had in mind with rewriting it to avoid the serial comma issue. It strikes me as a logical solution that no one would likely be upset with. I like your second suggested wording best, namely The serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma or Harvard comma, and sometimes referred to as the series comma). The reason I don't prefer the first suggestion is that it would perhaps encourage someone to put in a conjunction to form a serial comma, while the third suggestion privileges "series comma", which in my experience is a less common term. -Phoenixrod (talk) 05:59, 7 September 2010 (UTC)
Seems about right to me. --Ian Dalziel (talk) 11:27, 7 September 2010 (UTC)

It's been a couple days, so I made the change. -Phoenixrod (talk) 16:14, 9 September 2010 (UTC)

I dislike the periphrasis in the current wording, since the extra words mean almost nothing. So I changed the introductory phrase to The serial or series comma (also Oxford comma or Harvard comma). This makes the most sense to me, since it groups the terms logically by what they specify: description or location.

Phoenixrod says that this unwarrantedly privileges the least common name, "series comma". I agree with this, but it also makes no sense to separate two essentially identical terms.

So how about we remove the parenthesis so that there isn't the implication that any term is less common, but rather the intended implication, that we're grouping terms by similarity? — The serial or series comma, or Oxford or Harvard comma,....Eru·tuon 05:27, 1 November 2010 (UTC)

That's a reasonable argument. Nevertheless, I prefer the current wording, which to me is logical for the order in which the alternative names are presented (and avoiding use of a serial comma in the list). Your proposed wording has too many "or"s for my taste; I can see a reader either 1) getting bogged down in the "or" choices, or 2) changing the phrase to include a serial comma (which we are trying to avoid). But if a consensus forms for this new wording, I'd be fine with that. What do other editors think? -Phoenixrod (talk) 04:07, 2 November 2010 (UTC)
I agree with Phoenixrod. The current wording is slightly longer than what Erutuon proposes, but the extra words, far from "mean[ing] almost nothing", actually clarify the sentence structure and help the reader to see the meaning. Using a parenthesis points clearly to the key point: "The serial comma (...) is the comma used immediately before ..." With three alternative names to list, I think using the primary name, followed by a parenthesis giving the alternatives, is much better than a rather undifferentiated list of terms separated by "or". Above, I proposed "The serial comma (alternative names: series comma, Oxford comma, Harvard comma) ..." Would that help? IMHO it's ugly compared with the current rather elegant phrasing - but what thoughts? SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 07:22, 2 November 2010 (UTC)
The current wording doesn't seem elegant to me, because the phrases "known as" and "referred to as" don't convey anything distinct; the only significant word is "sometimes", which conveys that "series comma" is the least frequent term. So we may as well rephrase it as The serial comma (also Oxford or Harvard comma; sometimes series comma) for the sake of brevity and clarity. I think this wording would be preferable to one with three commas, into which someone would no doubt feel the itch to add a conjunction. — Eru·tuon 15:18, 2 November 2010 (UTC)

Ayn Rand had no children[edit]

Ayn Rand had no children, so the phrase "My mother, Ayn Rand, and God" would not be ambiguous. :) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:57, 20 October 2010 (UTC)

YOU PEDANTIC WEASEL! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:00, 25 October 2010 (UTC)
Note that this is only true if you know that Ayn Rand had no children. As I was otherwise unaware of this fact, that sentence would seem to imply that Ayn Rand did have at least one child (the "me"), hence causing ambiguity. In addition to that, it could be purported that the author is using mother in a less biological sense (seeing Ayn Rand as a mother, even if Ayn Rand doesn't see the relationship the same way) or doesn't know otherwise (thus actually believing to be Ayn Rand's child). - (talk) 07:59, 15 March 2011 (UTC)
It's also obvious that the mother being referred is also not God. But the point was made and the hilarious effect was welcomed. Juan Pablo de la Torre (talk) 22:37, 12 December 2012 (UTC)
Does it really? The suggested rewording is "To my mother, God, and Ayn Rand", which is claimed as unambiguous, but that's only true if you're not willing to accept that God might be female, and hence could be a mother. (Whether God might be a believable parent of someone writing a book is a separate issue.) (talk) 02:47, 9 July 2014 (UTC)

Furthermore, that sentence is incomplete. It's wrong no matter how you put it. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:33, 6 April 2011 (UTC)

can we please use someone else....anyone else other than ayn rand! :P Sockistan (talk) 01:19, 10 July 2014 (UTC)

I think it is sensible to stick to examples based on the "standard" thesis dedication already used. --Boson (talk) 01:59, 10 July 2014 (UTC)
I totally agree. --JAJ (talk) 18:00, 3 August 2017 (UTC)

"To God, Ayn Rand and my parents." I've heard about the holy trinity, but this is just ridiculous... Ayn Rand, Mother, and Father? (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 11:16, 15 January 2018 (UTC)

importance of the comma in menus of options[edit]

I first want to thank the editors of this entry for creating such a useful reference page for students. I have occasionally gathered examples of ambiguity, but yours here are clear and illustrative.

I'd like to emphasis the importance of the comma in menus of options. The food example is good, but some might question its import (who cares which foods are grouped if you ate them all?). You might point out that this is often a problem on restaurant menus, when we might not be able to figure out which are our actual choices. I've also seen this problem show up in college curricula requirements, e.g.:

        "Students must take History 110 and either English 130, 140 or 180 and Sociology 190."  

This one (an actual example of a proposed curricular change) is quite fraught: the lack of comma after 140 and 180 (toegher with an either/or construction) leads it to be read in at least two different ways: Are Eng 130, 140, and 180 grouped together as a choice, with Soc 190 required? or are Eng 130 & 140 grouped, and Eng 180 and Soc 190 grouped? Adding a comma after either 140 or 180--or after both--might resolve it, but I'm not quite sure it would.

The Wiki entry might just clarify the importance of this ambiguity in cases like menus of options. Thanks again for this entry. Troutfang (talk) 14:52, 26 October 2010 (UTC)

While your question is still important, in this particular example, I think it's moderately clear that the 180 is tied into the same construction as the 130 & 140, as it is still omitting the class title (otherwise it would say "History 110 and either English 130 and 140 or English 180 and Sociology 190" or something similar. Trying to tie "180 and Sociology 190" together just doesn't work, since "180" means nothing without the preceding "English". On the other hand, I'm not sure why they would put the additional requirement of Sociology 190 at the end, instead of along with the earlier required course: "History 110, Sociology 190, and either English 130, 140, or 180." So... I'm still a little confused. Hah. Goes to show. Anyway, my point is that there's more confusion to that construction than a serial comma - it seems to be missing commas left and right, since there should likely at the very least be one after "History 110". - (talk) 08:03, 15 March 2011 (UTC)

Avoid clarity unless you want to be clear[edit]

My favourite line in this entire article is this:

"The Australian Government Publishing Service's Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers (6th edition, 2002) recommends against it, except "to ensure clarity" (p. 102)."

In short, there's no need to be clear unless you wish to be clear.

That's a fabulous premise for a linguistic style manual!

Not a real ambiguity[edit]

To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

is ambiguous only for first look. In the article, reader can mistakenly suppose that Ayn Rand and God are Teresa's parents. Let us look at this option from the point of author.

Teresa, whose mother is Ayn Rand and father is God, wants to write a dedication. She understands, however, that it should not be ambiguous. The full form of such dedication would be:

To my mother and father: Ayn Rand and God.

You see that the sentence has a colon: comma would mean that dedication is addressed to 4 separate persons. With a colon it's unambiguously clear: it's addressed to 2 persons who are exactly mother and father. After that, Teresa wants shorten the sentence:

To my parents Ayn Rand and God.

It's possible to use the colon here too after parents (like in I have two sisters: Clara and Stella and I love my sisters Clara and Stella.) But the comma is completely unsuitable because it acts as a semantic divider between parents and their names. Anyway, whether Teresa will use the colon in such dedication or not, she wouldn't use the comma, and hence, the initial phrase is unambiguous. -- (talk) 22:06, 1 July 2011 (UTC)

Yes, a colon can be used to introduce a defining clause, and with a colon it would be indeed be unambiguous. Your advice to Teresa (use a colon) is sound, but the function of this article is not to give advice. The article documents what actually happens in a world where writers do use commas for various purposes, both as separators in lists and to introduce defining clauses. It is by no means the case that Teresa "wouldn't use the comma" - she might well do so, and she would make no grammatical error in doing so, and in so doing she would write an ambiguous phrase. SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 05:02, 2 July 2011 (UTC)
But that is the point, if she uses a comma like this she is making a grammatical error, the fact that she is unaware of the correct grammar(in general many people avoid using a lot of grammatical points they should be using) to use doesn't justify the use of bad grammar. That a comma can be used to introduce a clause is incidental; it's not a function of the comma itself but a side effect of separating that introduction from the rest of the sentence. Grammatically the examples given in this article have only a singular meaning when written, the apparent issues only transpires when spoken and you cannot see what punctuation is used or if you don't know what the correct grammar you should be using is.2607:FEA8:4E0:3B8:710F:9204:872C:37FB (talk) 17:53, 11 March 2017 (UTC)
It is quite normal to use a comma for apposition. The colon has a slightly different function. --Boson (talk) 19:51, 11 March 2017 (UTC)
Yes but that`s a colloquialism or manner of speech derived from an actual way to use a comma. However much like using a comma as a verbal pause it isn't an actual use of a comma by it's grammatical rules. (talk) 20:14, 22 March 2017 (UTC)
The use of a comma (or corresponding intonation in speech) for non-restrictive apposition is perfectly normal, and not a colloquialism. What is special (and possibly confusing) here is that, in this example, the phrase happens to be at the end of the sentence, where an alternative construction is also possible (even preferable, because of the ambiguity). In grammatical terms, we are talking about a type of asyndetic subclausal supplementation.
  • My parents, Ayn Rand and God, are with me today.
  • With me today are my parents, Ayn Rand and God.
Both cases are examples of non-restrictive apposition. In the second case, a colon would be possible if the sentence is not continued.
--Boson (talk) 01:57, 23 March 2017 (UTC)
Sigh this is the annoyance of there being no set standard defining English allowing anything that's been used long enough to be seen as a true grammatical rule even though it runs contrary to actual grammatical rules, as regardless apposition still is a figure of speech (derived from the shorting of a longer statement that would correctly use comma's but then failing to adjust the grammtical points). I am however very curious as to what you believe a colon is used for if not for explanations and enumerations. (talk) 16:02, 24 March 2017 (UTC)
I don't understand the point of your last sentence. Of course the colon is used to introduce what you call explanations and enumerations, just as the comma is also used to delimit non-restrictive appositive phrases. Though the functions of the comma and the colon overlap, the colon is much more limited. As Quirk et al. describe the function of the colon in A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language: "what follows (as in this sentence) is an explication of what precedes it or a fulfilment of the expectation raised ...". The comma is more versatile not only because there is less restriction on the position of the supplementary information but also because it can be used to introduce a wider variety of supplementary information, as explained in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Quirk et al. discuss differing degrees of "appositiveness", which also has a bearing on the possible ordering of phrases and on the punctuation (in writing) or intonation (in speech). I am not sure where your "actual grammatical rules" come from. --Boson (talk) 23:48, 24 March 2017 (UTC)
This makes things more clear. Due to how the material is worded you're misunderstanding the overlap as being directly in the function of the punctuation mark when actually it has to with the grammar of the words in the sentence (e.g. you're attributing grammatical qualities to the punctuation mark that are actually possessed by the word structure). This then leads you to use the comma even when the phases word structure lacks the necessary grammar and other punctuation marks would in fact be ideal. It's a general issue with the pedagogy of English and it's tendency to teach grammar in a situational way that makes it very easy to misunderstand why the punctuation is actually being used somewhere.2607:FEA8:4E0:3B8:710F:9204:872C:37FB (talk) 18:28, 25 March 2017 (UTC)
I don't see this discussion going anywhere, so I think I will leave it there and see what others think. --Boson (talk) 23:01, 26 March 2017 (UTC)
With regard to's comments, I suggest that there is (or should be) a distinction between "I love my sisters Clara and Stella", on the one hand, and "I love my sisters, Clara and Stella", on the other. In the first case (without the comma), we could imagine that the writer (or speaker!) has, say, four sisters, but is expressing his or her love for just two of them. That doesn't necessarily imply that he or she loves only those two sisters and not the other two. Perhaps, for example, only those two have been accused of a crime, and are therefore the only ones under discussion right now. (The example may seem rather forced, but it's not difficult to imagine all manner of circumstances in which only certain members of a group are under discussion whilst others go unmentioned.) In the second case (with the comma), the writer is expressing love for both of his or her two sisters. The comma indicates – I think unambiguously – that that there are only two sisters, and no others. (That, of course, says nothing about brothers, of which he or she may have none, one, two, or whatever. But brothers, if there are any, are not under discussion here.) — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:26, 1 February 2012 (UTC)

Contested lines[edit]

The article currently contains the following text:

This ambiguity does not exist under style recommendations that recommend that appositives be enclosed in parentheses, as in
To my mother (Ayn Rand) and God

I contest this assertion from a perspective viewpoint. The ambiguity to the reader remains, unless the reader is aware of the idiosyncracies of the style guide employed, and knows that this particular style guide is being employed to begin with. In the above example, while the parentheses make the appositive case clear, they do nothing to clarify the sentence 'To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God'. In this case, the reader has no immediate means of determining if there is a particular style guide in use that prescribes parenthetic appositives or if they should interpret the sentence with comma-delimited appositives.

It could be argued that 'within the context of a particular style guide' that ambiguity doesn't exist, but this seems more like a systemic clarification than a resolution since it fails to resolve the actual, real ambiguity in the sentence, as you might achieve by recasting the sentence. I could similarly say 'in my system, 4 means 6' but readers unfamiliar with my system, or not knowing that it even applies, are still going to default to the standard interpretation. TechnoSymbiosis (talk) 01:36, 8 July 2011 (UTC)

You say: "In the above example, while the parentheses make the appositive case clear, they do nothing to clarify the sentence 'To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God'." Well, they do if you put them in, but only if you put them in. The whole point is that the sentence is ambiguous without them. Or have I misunderstood you? Rothorpe (talk) 02:24, 8 July 2011 (UTC)
The section in the article where these lines appear suggests that 'To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God' is ambiguous because it could be either an appositive (my mother is Ayn Rand) or a series (God, Ayn Rand, my mother). The lines I then quoted suggest that this ambiguity can be avoided if a style guide using parentheses for appositives is used.
I disagree that this is a true statement - it reads to me to be a non-sequitor fallacy. Because the style guide removes ambiguity in the case of appositives does not mean it correspondingly removes ambiguity in the case of serial commas. Under such a style guide, while the sentence 'To my mother (Ayn Rand) and God' is unambiguously an appositive, 'To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God' remains ambiguous unless the reader A) is aware that this style guide has a specific rule about appositives, and B) assumes that the absence of parentheses is sufficient to identify that the commas in this case are serial commas. This makes such a guide a clarification or exception to the standard rules of English (eg. 'when we say X we mean Y') rather than a solution for the ambiguity that you might achieve by recasting the sentence (eg. 'To God and to my mother, Ayn Rand').
So basically I'm contesting that the lines I quoted in my above post belong in the article, since they don't appear to be factual. TechnoSymbiosis (talk) 05:13, 8 July 2011 (UTC)
It is not the style guide that removes the ambiguity but the parentheses. The guide is being praised for recommending them. The style guide is to help writers---not readers, as you seem to imply. Readers are not supposed to know what the guide says. "The parentheses clarify: good for the style guide" is the meaning. Rothorpe (talk) 20:57, 8 July 2011 (UTC)
That's also how I read the section. I don't think it implies that the reader needs to be familiar with the style guide. -Phoenixrod (talk) 02:14, 9 July 2011 (UTC)
That's partly what I'm trying to convey though, that the parentheses clarify an appositive when they're present, but do nothing to clarify the case where commas are used. In cases where commas appear, the reader is not aided in seeing whether or not that sentence is an appositive or a serial comma. TechnoSymbiosis (talk) 01:34, 12 July 2011 (UTC)

Take a hint[edit]

A "strong generally unsuitable in an encyclopedia" is the policy set out in WP:TONE, yet the hectoring "Take a hint: It's the SERIAL comma" has been reinserted after deletion. This "tone" is typical of the whole paragraph and I propose removal, again. --Old Moonraker (talk) 13:05, 5 September 2011 (UTC)

Fixed by User:Snalwibma—thanks. WP:SEMI next time? --Old Moonraker (talk) 13:44, 5 September 2011 (UTC)
Yes, I think so. This addition of a personal essay has been reverted several times in the last few days. It has no place in the article. Apart from being in breach of Wikipedia policies too numerous to list (WP:RS, WP:NOTBLOG, etc.), what it says is simply WRONG. How can anyone, seeing a comma in a sentence, know that it is a "serial comma" as opposed to an appositive comma or a comma fulfilling any other function, other than from the structure of the sentence? SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 13:47, 5 September 2011 (UTC)

Spanish usage[edit]

The Real Academia de la Lengua Española actually states that the serial comma must be used in some cases to avoid ambiguity, as you can see. "El uso de la coma es incompatible con las conjunciones y, e, ni, o, u cuando este signo se utiliza para separar elementos de una misma serie o miembros gramaticalmente equivalentes dentro de un mismo enunciado. Sin embargo, hay otros casos en que no solo el uso conjunto de la coma y la conjunción es admisible, sino necesario"

roughly "The use of the comma is incompatible with the conjunctions and, nor, or, when this sign is utilized to separate elements of a given series o grammatically equivalent members of a given utterance. However, there are other cases in which not only the use of the comma alongside the conjunction is admissible, but necessary" It goes on to give a few examples. (talk) 19:02, 18 September 2011 (UTC)

Please explain the ambiguity[edit]

Hi, I'm not quite sure what exactly was ambiguous in "To my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

In Finnish, you'd punctuate "To my parents, Ayn Rand and God" to mean a list of three items while you'd write "To my parents Ayn Rand and God" to claim extraordinary heritage. The third option, i.e. "Oxford comma", is out of question here, but used to separate subclauses. Is there a reason leaving the comma out altogether isn't ok in English?

-- Sigmundur (talk) 04:37, 5 October 2011 (UTC)

Hi - Yes, you can leave the comma out altogether, and write a sentence that unambiguously says your parents are Ayn Rand and God. But very commonly in English a comma is used before a modifying phrase, just as it is after a modifying phrase in a different position in the sentence. In the case of divine parentage, "Ayn Rand and God" modifies "my parents", and so a comma can be used. But the issue here, of course, is not "how should I write a sentence to mean X?" but "faced with a sentence saying X, how do I interpret it?" SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 05:54, 5 October 2011 (UTC)

-- Realistically, if you are claiming that your parents are Ayn Rand and God, you should be using a colon, i.e. "To my parents: Ayn Rand and God". I think that the serial comma is really only important to group multiple item groups (Oranges, Apples and Pairs, and Grapes). — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:03, 11 July 2017 (UTC)

Why not throw out all commas?[edit]

Would save a lot of space! How come the sillier usage here doesn't have a special name? Or does it? Would be interesting to know. I nominate "non-sense" commas! Oh and I think some examples of how to rework sentences using non-ambiguous punctuation/phrases would be insightful here without being too much like a manual. A list of suggestions, like use a colon in X circumstance would be nice, and even better if sourced from some manuals of style from X, Y, and Z of whatever. -- (talk) 15:30, 16 November 2011 (UTC)

Those who speak normal english (which some people seem to call slang) have a solution for this. It's actually a very common practise in spoken english. I think you will find it resolves ambiguity in most cases. Here's an example of use:

- My usual brekkie is coffee, bacon n' eggs and toast.

This normal english is more convenient (as are programming languages - you never get grammar mistakes with them) than nitpicked english. I like to think I use a good mix of 'em both :)

Oh yeah.. Question.. In nitpicked english, what about semi-colons in 'sub lists' with 3 or more items? For some reason I can never find an example. Only examples with 2 items.

Bear, tiger, dragon, cat; dog; snake and mouse, etc...

Is that right (aside from the sublist not making sense)?

 — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:01, 11 January 2012 (UTC) 

Unresolved ambiguity section does not require citations[edit]

Citations would not improve the "Unresolved ambiguity" section. It simply presents examples that clearly and usefully demonstrate ambiguities. The truth or source of the example phrases is irrelevant and citations would do nothing to increase their value as examples. That they demonstrate ambiguity is obvious on inspection. Remove the request for citations. DenisHowe (talk) 10:44, 5 March 2012 (UTC)

I agree entirely. Throw that request out! --Brian Josephson (talk) 19:18, 19 April 2012 (UTC)


I came to the article to learn how old the dispute is between good and evil pro and con serial comma users. I expected a history hundreds of years long, but from what I can see here, it could well be a post WW II issue. Anyone care to add a timeline of editing style on this controversy? —EncMstr (talk) 18:45, 13 September 2012 (UTC)

I, too, was hoping for history on this comma. Does anyone have any? I will peruse the interweb over the following days to see if there are any historical articles that can be referred to. StefanijaSili (talk) 15:44, 19 August 2015 (UTC)
I don't think it is post WW II. There is discussion of a wider issue that includes the serial comma in the 1926 edition of Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (under And, 3). There is a similar discussion in Fowler's The King's English (1905) It is also discussed in Collins's Author and Printer (1905) under "and" or ",and". It seems it was then not uncommon to put a comma after the last element in the enumeration as well. --Boson (talk) 18:23, 19 August 2015 (UTC)
The Chicago Manual of Style Online says that their style guide has been recommending to use the serial comma ever since the first edition in 1906, and says that the first edition of Strunk in 1918 also recommended it. ("Browse Q & A: Commas". The Chicago Manual of Style Online. University of Chicago Press. 6 January 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2018.) —BarrelProof (talk) 20:50, 3 March 2018 (UTC)
The use of commas in general certainly has much history. I recall a facsimile of an Elizabethan MS that was extraordinary for its number of commas (quite apart from the fact that one sentence occupied an entire page). Alas, I can't find the book to see if the MS contained a serial list. I believe it was in an eponymous biography of Raleigh, published ca. 1950 by Longmans, Green and Co [sic]. It would be interesting to know more; surely there must have been some written criticism of style, at least from Dr Johnson's time onward. D Anthony Patriarche (talk) 06:42, 14 April 2018 (UTC)

Why this title?[edit]

I know Google is not a reliable source but it is a good indicator of relative frequency of use.

"Oxford comma" 641,000 hits

"serial comma" 147,000 hits

"Harvard comma" 8,300 hits Martin Hogbin (talk) 10:46, 15 October 2012 (UTC)

Since no on has responded so far, let me ask if there is any objection to moving this article to 'Oxford comma'. Martin Hogbin (talk) 08:58, 16 October 2012 (UTC)
I find "serial comma" more neutral, since "Oxford comma" is asscociated with a position that the serial comma belongs there. --Boson (talk) 12:40, 16 October 2012 (UTC)
I am not sure that 'neutral' has any relevance for article titles. We should use the term by which the subject is most widely known. If that were "Martin Hogbin's comma" that would be the name that we should use. Martin Hogbin (talk) 16:53, 16 October 2012 (UTC)
On the other hand, "serial comma" seems to be more common in (Google) books:
--Boson (talk) 12:34, 16 October 2012 (UTC)
I think you have got your search wrong. You seem to be searching for 'serial OR comma' vs 'Oxford OR comma'. Martin Hogbin (talk) 16:53, 16 October 2012 (UTC)
I don't think so. Are you familiar with the Google Ngram Viewer syntax?
If you search Google Books and Google Scholar, you should find that "serial comma" occurs more than twice as frequently as "Oxford comma".
--Boson (talk) 21:51, 16 October 2012 (UTC)
For what it's worth (and I accept this is a not a particularly meaningful metric), the present article "Serial comma" gets about 82,000 views a month, of which only 2,800 come via the "Oxford comma" redirect, and 150 via the "Harvard comma" redirect. GrindtXX (talk) 13:15, 16 October 2012 (UTC)
Considering the Google result, I cannot believe that 82,000 users search for 'serial comma'. Martin Hogbin (talk) 16:53, 16 October 2012 (UTC)
I would object to the proposed move. No time to do any detailed investigation just now, but serial comma seems more of a technical and therefore proper name, whereas Oxford comma is just a nickname. Serial comma is also more neutral, and does not ally the practice with any particular place/publisher/side of the Atlantic. I'm open to persuasion, but it's going to take more than (i.e. something completely other than) crude google-counts to persuade me. SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 17:17, 16 October 2012 (UTC)

Source for statements about Cambridge house style and standard British usage[edit]

The cited source (Butcher's, p.156) actually states:

"A comma should be consistently omitted or included before the final 'and' or 'or' in lists of three or more items.

red, white and blue ... red, white, and blue

If the author's usual style is to omit the comma, an exception should of course be made if the sentence is a complex one . . ."

--Boson (talk) 23:00, 10 February 2013 (UTC)

"Creating ambiguity" section[edit]

With reference to this edit. Please don't just delete this material. Maybe it does need a reference or two, but it is no more "unreferenced" than the "Resolving ambiguity" section. This article must retain balance, and refrain from pushing the "pro" or "anti" serial comma line. SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 20:39, 13 April 2013 (UTC)

I entirely agree with these comments. The section has in fact been there since 2007 with little change and no challenges, and has only become contentious now because it was initially deleted by somebody who appears not to have read it properly. The appropriate place for a reference, if anyone can dig one out, would probably be at the phrase "The comma may introduce ambiguity" in the Arguments for and against section, where the argument is exceptional in not being referenced. GrindtXX (talk) 21:17, 13 April 2013 (UTC)
wp:burden is a guideline, and is quite clear in this regard. It states:

"Attribute ... any material challenged ... to a reliable, published source using an inline citation. Cite the source clearly and precisely (specifying page, section, or such divisions as may be appropriate). The citation must clearly support the material as presented in the article".

It matters not if uncited material has been in an article for a long time. The same as it matters not if an article at AfD has existed a long time. The material is uncited, is original research as it stands, and has been challenged. It is a violation of wikipedia guidelines to restore it without an inline citation that directly supports it. If you have such a citation to provide, feel free to provide it and add back any directly supported text. We don't re-add challenged original research because we like it. And the same goes for any other text in the article that is uncited -- feel free to challenge and remove it.
And please -- where the wp guideline requires that the material not be re-added after it has been challenged, without an appropriate RS ref, please to not edit war by restoring it in direct contravention of policy.--Epeefleche (talk) 21:54, 13 April 2013 (UTC)
I have restored the material. Please do not delete it again without discussion. The section on "Creating ambiguity" is no more unreferenced than most of the rest of the article. The preceding section on "Resolving ambiguity" has a couple of references, but neither of them addresses the argument, they are just sources for the quotes that are used as material for analysis. The following section ("Unresolved ambiguity") has a single reference, which again is just a source for the quote that is analysed. The whole "ambiguity" section, with its three subsections, is in effect original research. By taking out just one of the three subsections out you are unbalancing the article and turning it into a broadcast on behalf of the serial comma - and it is not the function of Wikipedia to advocate for or against. The fact is that some writers and style guides do use serial commas, and some don't, and this article must take a neutral stance, simply presenting the facts. Either this subsection should remain, or the whole "Ambiguity" section should be deleted. Deleting the lot might be more in accord with the "rules", but it would be a much poorer article. SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 06:10, 14 April 2013 (UTC)
I urge you to self-revert, or else this should go to a noticeboard. You are edit-warring, in direct contravention of a wp guideline. It has been pointed out to you, and you continue to edit war. I'm happy for any other unreferenced challenged material to be deleted as well. But this is uncited, challenged, clearly OR as it stands, and you have repeatedly restored it without inline citations.--Epeefleche (talk) 06:18, 14 April 2013 (UTC)
Please don't accuse me of edit-warring, and stop lecturing me. I am not edit-warring. I am tying to improve the article. How do you respond to the points I make above? SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 06:24, 14 April 2013 (UTC)
How else shall I describe it? You are blatantly and repeatedly violating wp:burden. You are repeatedly restoring uncited challenged material. Blatant OR. You have been pointed to the wp:burden guideline. You have been told that there is not an exception in the guideline for the reasons you would like to keep it: a) that it has existed, uncited, for some time; and b) that there is other uncited material (which I encourage you if you wish to challenge it to delete). That is poster-child edit warring. Against policy. You are not allowed to edit war, blatantly against policy, because your intent is to (in your subjective opinion "improve the article". If you think your view of what is "improving the article" allows you to edit in direct contravention of wp guidelines, then perhaps we should bring this to a noticeboard. I've discussed the matter with you repeatedly here, in edit summaries, and on your talkpage -- and you simply continue to restore uncited material in direct contravention of wp:burden.--Epeefleche (talk) 06:33, 14 April 2013 (UTC)

Epee, if you're going to quote WP:BURDEN as your reasoning, I urge you to actually follow the guideline you are quoting: "Any material lacking a reliable source directly supporting it may be removed. Whether and how quickly this should happen depends on the material and the overall state of the article. Editors might object if you remove material without giving them time to provide references; consider adding a citation needed tag as an interim step." Given that multiple sections refer to the example you have removed, it strikes me as entirely within reason that you leave the sections in the article while the issue is discussed. As for edit-warring, I will note only that multiple editors have restored the section, while only you have insisted on its deletion. Who is actually edit-warring? :) What is most important is the long-term state of the article, not that you get your way in the short term.... -Phoenixrod (talk) 06:29, 14 April 2013 (UTC)

  • I am following wp:burden. I considered adding a citation needed tag. I decided not to do so. It is not needed -- interested parties can find the text, are aware of its deletion, and have had -- as pointed out above -- ample time already to add refs to the completely uncited material.
The long-term state of the article will be either that the material will be restored with inline citations. Or it will not be restored.
WP:Burden makes it clear that: "The burden of evidence lies with the editor who adds or restores material, and is satisfied by providing a reliable source that directly supports the material." Obviously, the material has been challenged. Obviously, it was restored without the requisite inline citations. In direct violation of the guideline. That's not considered acceptable. No rationale that provides an exemption from following wp guidelines has been supplied.--Epeefleche (talk) 06:39, 14 April 2013 (UTC)
But it's not so simple. The multiple sections on "ambiguity" rely on the extended example with Ayn Rand. Deleting only the "creating ambiguity" section violates WP:NPOV by favoring the serial comma. Perhaps all the subsections need to go, perhaps they need to stay, perhaps they can be effectively referenced; in any case, deleting only one subsection harms the article in the short term, while discussion is ongoing.
And as for "ample time" to find a reference, the article's history indicates to me that this concern is only a day and a half old. That's hardly enough time to track down a print reference on a weekend. While you are trying to follow the letter of the guideline, I believe you are violating its spirit, which is a judgment call—which I tried to express by quoting WP:BURDEN earlier: "Whether and how quickly this [removal of article text] should happen depends on the material and the overall state of the article". In this case, removing the text—repeatedly and over multiple editors' objections—negatively affects the other "ambiguity" subsections and leaves an unbalanced article. Give it a little time, please. -Phoenixrod (talk) 07:23, 14 April 2013 (UTC)
It's quite simple. WP:Burden makes it clear that:

"The burden of evidence lies with the editor who adds or restores material, and is satisfied by providing a reliable source that directly supports the material."

The material was challenged. It was restored by Snalwibma without the requisite inline citations. In direct violation of the guideline. If he wishes to challenged and delete other uncited material, he is welcome to -- if he fails to provide inline citations here, though, he is certainly not allowed to restore challenged material without citations. We are not a blog of individual editors' original research, and losing OR is not losing anything. He can always work on the language in his workspace, or on this talkpage. But the guideline makes clear that what he is doing is unacceptable.--Epeefleche (talk) 07:54, 14 April 2013 (UTC)
Yes, it's quite simple. Either the three subsections of "Ambiguity" all remain, or they all go, because they all violate WP:OR to the same extent. I think the latter approach would be a great shame. Let's track down some references. SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 07:59, 14 April 2013 (UTC)
As now stated many times, without anyone disagreeing, you are free Snalwibma to challenge any uncited material in the article, and to delete it (and to protest and report to AN/I any editor who restores it without inline RS refs, in violation of wp:burden).
You are not free, however, to restore uncited challenged material repeatedly -- as you have -- in direct violation of wp:burden.
Anyone is free to work on any deleted material, to seek to track down inline RS supporting citations, and to restore the material if such inline RS refs are found and supplied.
You just cannot restore challenged text that is pure original research, completely uncited, violative of wp:v, repeatedly. As you have done. And in the wp world, it is not "a great shame" to delete uncited text that is pure OR.--Epeefleche (talk) 08:10, 14 April 2013 (UTC)
I don't know why the tone needs to be so aggressive. I have not "repeatedly" violated anything, I have twice restored material that I (and others) think should remain in the article. It's not perfect, and yes, it does need a reference - so let's find a reference. You have three times deleted it, and have not engaged in any meaningful discussion of the merits of the case. When I say it would be a shame to delete this stuff, I don't mean it needs to stay just as it is, but that listing examples of this type, reflecting as far as possible all the nuances of use vs. non-use of the serial comma, plays a useful role in helping the reader to understand the topic. What I am certainly NOT in favour of is deleting just this one subsection, and not the other two parts of "Ambiguity". That would badly skew the article, against WP:NPOV. You invite me to delete the lot - but I'm not going to do that, because at present I reckon the balance of benefit lies with retaining and improving the examples. I'm actually not sure how we should deal with examples of the kind listed in this article. If a WP article uses an example to illustrate a point, does that specific example have to come lock, stock and barrel from an external source in order to avoid violating WP:OR? Can anyone provide any guidance? SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 11:17, 15 April 2013 (UTC)
(ec)Apologies if the tone appeared aggressive. I actually thought that your actions were not appropriate. You twice (that is what I mean by repeatedly) inserted text into this article in direct contravention of the wp guideline wp:BURDEN. The fact that you like it does not excuse your action. The fact that you think you should re-insert it without supplying the requisite inline citations from RSs directly supporting it does not make the fact that you are editing in direct contravention of the guideline excusable. You've been here long enough to know -- just saying "Hey, there is a wp guideline that prohibits what I am doing, but I want to do it so I will do it anyway" is not appropriate. I'm not against the content if inline RS citations are supplied. But neither you nor anyone else has supplied any, not during the time the material resided in the article without citations, nor in the last few days while we have discussed this.
I have discussed the merits. The "merits" here aren't "isn't that a pretty sentence, so shouldn't we retain it?", but rather -- "is it RS-supported?" It's not. We're not a blog -- if we were, individual editors' private musings and inserts of sentences would be fine; we have, on the otherhand, an over-riding standard of wp:v.
Examples are great. Nobody disputes that. Find an RS that supports your favorite example, and re-insert examples. Otherwise, text that violates wp:burden should be deleted. Feel free to challenge and delete any and all such material that violates wp:v. Feel free to insert any material that satisfies it. You can always work on looking for sources after material that violates wp:v is deleted.--Epeefleche (talk) 15:40, 16 April 2013 (UTC)
As a matter of interest, has anyone actually challenged the validity of the statement that the serial comma in "To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God" introduces ambiguity. I would tend to interpret the wording of the policy (WP:V) "any material challenged or likely to be challenged" to mean that someone actually has to challenge (the validity of) the statement (not the lack of a source), thus meaning that "2+2=4" does not have to be sourced because it is obvious to any 12-year old English speaker and challenging it would be disruptive. --Boson (talk) 17:28, 16 April 2013 (UTC)

I found a reference for the notable example. A quick Google search yields many more references, as the example is long-standing and well-known. Icarus of old (talk) 15:34, 16 April 2013 (UTC)

I'm afraid I have removed this reference, as it merely supplied another case of the "my parents, Ayn Rand and God" ambiguity (as you say, among thousands out there; and which is already adequately referenced) – rather than the quite different ambiguity of "my mother, Ayn Rand, and God". A citation making the point that a sequence of three singular entities separated by two commas might be considered ambiguous is therefore still needed. GrindtXX (talk) 21:48, 16 April 2013 (UTC)
I doubt the removal was as sad as implied by the edit summary. I'll leave this to people who have time to quibble instead of trying to find solutions. Page unwatched, Icarus out. Icarus of old (talk) 22:23, 16 April 2013 (UTC)
The reason your search turned up that page was that someone in the comment section used it as a response to the more famous "may parents" example. As far as I can tell, many people credit Wikipedia for this example, and I added one source that cites this example in their footnote. This may seem somewhat circular, but note that the source has not just blindly copied Wikipedia and we are copying back, creating a self-reference; they are actually evaluating this example and saying it is "too good to pass up". That's a very strong argument for keeping this material. Vesal (talk) 23:52, 18 April 2013 (UTC)
Awesome! We should remember the plight of Achilles and Tortoise in Gödel, Escher, Bach. If anyone now removes the text, it will probably result in a system crash, causing the stack to be overwritten, and we will all end up as inhabitants of Wikipedia.--Boson (talk) 00:33, 19 April 2013 (UTC)
Well, I for one don't intend to run that risk. The new reference certainly goes some way to meeting the need, and I hope is adequate as a holding operation to discourage further deletions. Nevertheless, it is undeniably a bit circular, so I also hope the search is still on for a completely independent source making the same point. GrindtXX (talk) 10:57, 19 April 2013 (UTC)
Fortunately, the source said "part of me cringes" as she cites Wikipedia, and that's critical for an infinite series to converge. The universe is safe for now, but an independent source would be extremely useful because that would be evidence that this is a significant point to make in this context. Vesal (talk) 12:39, 19 April 2013 (UTC)

I am removing the citation for this ambiguity claim because it is citing a non-authoritative source which in turn is simply citing the original incorrect Wikipedia article. Note that the source does NOT state that the article's claim is correct, merely that it was claimed by Random Wikipedia Person. Essentially this is an attempt by someone to use his own wikipedia claim as a reference, which is definitely an abuse of the citation process.

I am also contesting the claim of "creating ambiguity" AGAIN. The sole example provided is the statement "To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God". The problem is that this sentence is not ambiguous: it has only one grammatically correct reading, which is "To my mother, to Ayn Rand, and to God". The "alternative" reading (where Ayn Rand is my mother) is cute but is not grammatically correct because it has an aside but no parallel construction. If Ayn Rand were my mother, I think the only grammatically valid form would be "To my mother, Ayn Rand, and to God". Thankfully Ayn Rand is not my mother.

If the ONLY "creating ambiguity" example which can be provided is one so weak as to be likely ungrammatical, then the claim of creating ambiguity should be deleted in its entirety. If someone wants to keep this claim -- which I think is bogus -- they need to invent a better and clearly grammatical example. Otherwise the serial comma has clearly won. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:46, 8 November 2013 (UTC)

Well, there was an excellent example offered on Twitter today: A screenshot by Slate of a story at Sky News with the text "Top Stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set". That's not a full sentence but it is arguably a situation in which style rules about serial comma really are needed to avoid confusion and/or humor. --Netsettler (talk) 16:09, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
There is nothing ungrammatical about the supplementary apposition in (one interpretation of) "To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God". This is made perfectly clear if the supplementary apposition is enclosed in equivalent parentheses: "To my mother (Ayn Rand) and God". --Boson (talk) 23:49, 11 December 2013 (UTC)

Using commas[edit]

"Jonathan Winters was a comedian, actor, artist and author." (correct) No comma after 'artist'. Only if it's another sentence or thought should a comma be added: "Jonathan Winters is considered one of the best improvisational comics, and he is known for his role on Mork & Mindy." A comma is used to separate two different sentences. When a word like 'and', 'or' and 'but' (called conjunctions) joins two stand-alone sentences or subjects, then you should put a comma before it. I see a comma too often on Wikipedia, especially in the intro: "So and so is an author, actor, and professional baseball player." This is wrong! No comma belongs before 'and'. "So and so is a teacher, salesman and singer." This is correct. I also did web searches to confirm what I've always known based on what I was taught and I found many sources to support this and think it's an error to add extra commas that don't belong within text when it's "listing" credentials in the intro of an article for instance. Just my input, but regarding proper use of the comma, this is a fact regarding conjunctions, even if socially it's changed or done differently depending on the editor, author, and their background. (Notice before the last item I did include a comma because it separates two different thoughts or topics.) Thanks (no comma) and take care! :) P.S. "and singer" is not a sentence. So a comma doesn't belong before the last item. Dancer, actor and singer... is right. Not... dancer, actor, and singer. (talk) 14:01, 23 April 2013 (UTC)

As you say yourself, this is all "just [your] opinion". I can recommend a good Wikipedia article that should help you understand the issue – you'll find it at Serial comma. SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 16:41, 23 April 2013 (UTC)

I meant to type [my] "input" which I changed, (comma belongs here) or to mean just my opinion about using it in the intro of articles when listing a person's credentials (for example) which is what I followed my "just my opinion" with. But no, it's not my opinion. Technically, a comma belongs before 'and/or' when the part after the comma can stand alone or is unrelated to the text before it. And " , and comic " is not a sentence. "Ronny, Ricky, Johnny, and Mike." is incorrect since "and Mike" is not a stand alone sentence and is part of the same list of names. So no, not opinion. This article that you are referring me to (serial comma), is the same one I'm leaving this discussion about by the way. The article itself gives viewpoints for both, but it seems to want to defend the extra comma more instead of acknowledge it's incorrect and just something people do in error or by preference. "My opinion" is how I'm wording my input. But the truth/fact is, to use a comma the way people do on here mostly, or in this example: "So and so was a singer, dancer, and rapper" is wrong (since "after the comma, 'and rapper' is not a sentence or new thought different from the text before it). I see MORE sources confirming and supporting without a comma than for. Concensus should "win". Otherwise, this is not a valid complaint, argument and article. (no comma before the 'and' prior to article since it's about the same topic and i don't need to emphazise "and article".) But if more sources confirm it's being misused, this article should certainly defend that. My "opinion" and suggestion to you is to learn more about using conjunctions correctly and you'll know that the "serial comma" is a 'myth' or 'urban legend'. (grin) To my knowledge, it's one of those common English usage misconceptions. Take care! :)

P.s. This isn't the only thing I see done ignorantly on Wikipedia. Calling many shows "reality" just because the media does (when they may be game/competition shows just like decades before it), is also incorrect... Or posting Obama photos on unrelated topics when someone else qualifies better for the topic. An agenda doesn't make it right. I guess this comes down to how we were taught and where. It's fair to say, "either/or" works. Yet one is better than the other. In my context, removing it is best when listing similar items (other than "Barnes and/& Noble, and Safeway"... or "crabs, beans and rice, and mashed potatoes".) We must be accurate, not pop culture. And with the way people talk and type now (running sentences together and not using proper punctuation), the extra commas are just unnecessary and becoming "old fashioned" (in defense of people who don't write/type properly). (talk) 22:34, 23 April 2013 (UTC)

To whom it may concern: Let me please clear something up right away... my input here is not a complaint about the article so much, or at all. I think some confusion may be attributed to the fact I left this "discussion" here because (or as if) I am disagreeing. The article does mention (in a way) that the exra comma isn't necessary in my examples (unless after "eggs and bacon, and toast" for instance). My beef is with seeing the extra comma on other articles a lot. When listing a person's credentials (one at the end before 'and') or listing people involved in a project (one at the end before the 'and'). I just put my discussion here since it's related to this, instead of debating it on the article where the extra commas are being misused. So there is no need to even respond with a defense or argument. It's only an observation I see a lot of on here. An annoying one. I'm not trying to change this specific article or get my way. I'm just bringing awareness about the problem, so when I make corrections on other articles, if someone comes to this one, they can see the proper use. That's all my point is. Right/wrong/indifferent, I will continue to remove excessive commas when used incorrectly. So with that, have a great day/night! :) (talk) 22:49, 23 April 2013 (UTC)
You are under the impression that using the serial comma is "wrong" in your examples from other articles. But that's just it—it's not wrong. It's a style choice, one that some style guides recommend and others don't. You don't prefer that style, and that's fine. But that doesn't mean it's incorrect to use it in such cases. In fact, you can find Wikipedia's policy at Wikipedia:MOS#Serial_commas, which says in part, "Editors may use either convention on Wikipedia so long as each article is consistent within itself. However, there are some times when the serial comma can create or remove confusion". As Snalwibma was pointing out gently (and with a touch of irony, I believe), your opinion on the serial comma doesn't make it "right" or "wrong". -Phoenixrod (talk) 00:58, 24 April 2013 (UTC)
(tounge-in-cheek) No, no no... I'm honestly not under that impression. If it came across that way, my bad. I'm totally agreeing with you both, I am only/merely stating that ", and comma..." doesn't require it or actually make sense since it's not needing to separate from a different thought nor is a complete sentence. I'm not saying this article or the "art of using serial commas" is wrong. That's just it, the reply I got was not necessary only because I was giving my personal input about how it makes sense not to include it in the case of "something, something, something, and something". It would only be important when stating: "something, something and something, or something because of something." Again, I'm not arguing. I'm not debating. I'm not saying right or wrong. But rather, because I changed them before, I am posting my own/personal remarks and observations and research and teaching/learning about it. You have your way, I have mine. Someone else has theirs. It's no big deal. I can't emphasize enough, it is just "sharing", not requesting a discussion, debate, nor (notice a comma then) claiming my way is right. I'm playing "devil's advocate" about how it's not necessary is all. But yeah, continue whichever way, my original post was to "defend" my reasons only. So before anyone replies with something hostile, sassy or rude, just keep in mind I'm not trying to change anything with this article. It's my preference and I honestly think with historical research, the proper/preferred/original way. How I was taught/raised. So again, it's how I'll do it. (I'm repeating myself here...) Right, wrong or indifferent (no last comma), I just wanted to "log" it on this talk page. Basically, just disregard. It's mostly for anyone else who wants to "follow" my explanation when I make edits or corrections. As you were... (smile) (talk) 01:43, 24 April 2013 (UTC)

I guess I did type in my original post, which is technically "right" and which is "wrong". So I can see how that conclusion was drawn. However, it doesn't say it should be the only way it can be done. Nonetheless, that is my choice which I won't defend. I left that, not for a discussion, but rather for "record". I stand by it and still think it's the better way. Therefore, the response I got about it only being my opinion may seem more passive-aggressive than 'gently ironic'. So we can agree to disagree and just move on from there. How's that? :) (talk) 01:55, 24 April 2013 (UTC)

Length of Ambiguity section[edit]

A couple of days ago, User:Oren0 added a "too long" tag to the top of the Ambiguity section. I disagree with this, and think the tag should be removed; but I felt the issue should be discussed here first. The section is already subdivided into four subsections, and certainly isn't over-long in absolute terms. However, I assume Oren0's point is that it goes into excessive detail for an encyclopedia article. Personally I disagree: I think that for the newcomer to understand why people on both sides of the serial comma debate make such a fuss about it, this amount of detailed explanation is necessary. Comments? GrindtXX (talk) 19:59, 12 May 2013 (UTC)

I agree. Length is fine. Remove the tag. SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 09:32, 13 May 2013 (UTC)
Maybe a length tag is the wrong cleanup tag, but something has gone off the rails with that section. Do we really need a list of 12 unambiguous ways to present lists of various sizes? Maybe it's just me, but I think the whole appositive problem is a fairly simple one to explain and can be expressed relatively concisely with one or two examples, rather than three specific sections and a general case. Oren0 (talk) 06:45, 14 May 2013 (UTC)
As a simple example of the problem, in the first section I think the "my parents" and "ex-wives" examples are completely redundant. I think you could combine the first two sections with the two similar Ayn Rand examples and cover both ambiguous cases quite concisely. Oren0 (talk) 06:51, 14 May 2013 (UTC)

Question about serial commas, Oxford commas etc.[edit]

Do the various style manuals say that "etc." should be treated as "and so forth" -- i.e., as an appearance of "and", in which case the same rule of that manual applies? Or does every publisher use the serial comma before "etc."? (talk) 20:18, 24 June 2014 (UTC)

Ha, I found the answer at Etc.#Spellings and usages: generally the serial comma is used before "etc." regardless of its usage before "and". But this assertion is unreferenced there, so I'm not going to put it in here. (talk) 20:31, 24 June 2014 (UTC)

"x and y and z is unambiguous"[edit]

In Oxford_comma#In_general it is stated, that "x and y and z is unambiguous", but doesn't that bite with the "coffee, bacon and eggs and toast" example in Oxford_comma#Resolving_ambiguity? There, "bacon and eggs and toast" is ambiguous, because one could either read it either as

  • bacon
  • eggs and toast

or as

  • bacon and eggs
  • toast

leaving the semantic proximity of the three nouns unclear. — Toshiki (talk) 09:29, 17 July 2014 (UTC)

Other languages - Romanian[edit]

Romanian is listed as a language that does not use the serial comma, but there is a parenthetical note which reads "unless it is used as an adversative conjunction". I am not sure what this is supposed to mean but I suspect it does not refer to the serial comma. It does not seem to be supported by the cited source. Can someone with a better knowledge of Romanian explain? --Boson (talk) 10:39, 25 July 2014 (UTC)

Ayn Rand? Really?[edit]

How about someone less polarizing, say, Jane Austen? Rissa, Guild of Copy Editors (talk) 03:31, 31 March 2015 (UTC)

If Hayden really used the example of Ayn Rand, then I don't see anything wrong with it here. There is nothing (much) political about this article. (Of course most of us are only here because we have religious views on the serial comma! ;-)) Changing Hayden's reference from Rand to Austen would uncouple the reference from its citation. But what I have done is to shift to Jane Austen further down where Hayden is not referenced, simply to reduce the total number of references to Rand. This way, neither Rand nor Austen get over-used. Seem OK? --Pechmerle (talk) 06:10, 31 March 2015 (UTC)
No, because by switching to Jane Austen the parallels are obscured. SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 06:57, 31 March 2015 (UTC)
I agree with Snalwibma. The example is clearer if the only difference is the use of the comma. Switching the mentioned person is confusing. I also don't really see anything wrong with using Ayn Rand in such an example. (The example also refers to God, which would seem to be at least as polarizing as Ayn Rand, but no one's complaining about that. Moreover, mentioning parents may bring up painful emotions for some people, but we're nevertheless mentioning parents in the example too. Let's just leave it alone.) —BarrelProof (talk) 16:04, 31 March 2015 (UTC)

I've found and substituted Mother Teresa and the Pope. At least there must be more Mother Teresa jokes and many more Pope jokes than jokes, if any, about Ayn Rand. Wikiain (talk) 01:59, 17 March 2017 (UTC).

Punctuation other than a comma[edit]

I thought the colon was supposed indicate apposition, not the comma.

To my parents, Ayn Rand and God. [serial]
To my parents: Ayn Rand and God. [apposition]
Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall. [serial]
Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives: Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall. [apposition]

The examples without the colon should always be considered serial. Even with one person, it should read:

To my mother: Ayn Rand.

"To my mother, Ayn Rand" is simply wrong.

Or you can use parentheses:

They went to Oregon with Betty, a maid and a cook. [3 people]
They went to Oregon with Betty (a maid) and a cook. [2 people]
They went to Oregon with Betty (a maid and a cook). [1 person]

I think ('tho I'm not sure) that this algorithm can be always used to solve all serial comma ambiguity without knowing the meaning of the words themselves. Of course, if you get too complex, with a hierarchy of ANDs and ORs (like, say, a computer program), you're better off resorting to an outline, just for the ability of humans to understand.

Does any style guide mention this punctuation method of solving the ambiguity? --RoyGoldsmith (talk) 10:20, 12 June 2015 (UTC)

Yes, a colon CAN be used to clarify, as can parentheses, etc., etc. There are many ways of solving the problem, but given that a comma can be – and often is – used to indicate apposition, the reader is left with ambiguity in something like "To my parents, Ayn Rand and God", and with a different sort of ambiguity in "To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God." There is nothing whatever wrong with "To my mother, Ayn Rand"! SNALWIBMA ( talk - contribs ) 18:02, 28 June 2015 (UTC)

More punctuation[edit]

An edit I made was reverted with the explanation: "no internal punctuation in this series"

What is that supposed to mean?

Actually, I overlooked that the list for 2 persons already includes the example I added. But moreover, it also has forms using parentheses and dashes. What's wrong with also demonstrating semicolons? They completely resolve the ambiguity, and are less visually intrusive than parens or dashes. --Bigpeteb (talk) 18:33, 17 July 2015 (UTC)

Your edit summary said, in part, "The article on semicolons mentions their use for sentences that contain internal punctuation." What Semicolon says is that semicolons are used "between items in a series or listing containing internal punctuation, especially parenthetic commas, where the semicolons function as serial commas" (my emphasis). The items in the series in question did not contain internal punctuation, so semicolons would not normally be used to separate them (even in a case in which they might serve to disambiguate the sentence). One can't just go around making up one's own systems of punctuation. If you can find a source that recommends the punctuation you offered, you're welcome to add it again, but I don't think you will. Deor (talk) 15:22, 18 July 2015 (UTC)

"Its omission can suggest a stronger connection between the last two items"[edit]

The argument above in the "Arguments for and against" section seems a bit odd to me. As someone who does not use the Oxford comma, I find that the inverse is also true. Is this really a good argument in favour?–Totie (talk) 11:22, 24 December 2015 (UTC)

Link to Wikipedia:Manual of Style[edit]

A reference to the Wikipedia's own Manual of Style seems apropos.

The shortcut anchor widget to MOS:SERIAL/MOS:OXFORD is noted as being seemingly for Talk, Editor, and Wikipedia namespace pages themselves, as here. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:18, 2 January 2016 (UTC)

Note the documentation: "These templates inform about the shortcuts available to the page they are on". It works in conjunction with a redirect and should be removed here, since it would mean that MOS:SERIAL redirects to this section of this page. --Boson (talk) 21:54, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
Since Wikipedia is not generally regarded as an authority on punctuation, I'm not really sure that a reference to the Wikipedia manual of style is appropriate, so I would not object to anyone removing this altogether. On the other hand, it might just be appropriate as one example of how the issue is approached in the context of an international publication, if it is not given undue weight. I have, therefore reworded the text and moved it to a less prominent location and put it in context by changing the heading to "International style guides" and adding information on the target audience to avoid misleading readers who might think Wikipedia is making recommendations for the general public. --Boson (talk) 22:08, 2 January 2016 (UTC)

Reply to several points[edit]

Thank you fellow editors.

Re "thusly" and its adverbial being, I'll agree that "thus" is often used in an adverbial context. (This is thusly so.)

About the reference to the Wikipedia MOS' own usage of the serial comma, it does seem relevant to reflect the parent style of the Wikipedia MOS by its own usage of the serial comma, in regards to any declared or here exemplified support of the style requirement of the serial comma. (The Wikipedia:MOS itself uses the serial comma.)

Yes it is so that I'm a speaker of American English as it were and the serial comma is expected and not just a matter of style, but form. The effective cadence of language reflects it, and more than that, the omission of the final serial comma is a particular connection of the final elements of the sequence. The omission is a declarative act itself and there is thusly a usual requirement beyond matters of style for the placement of the comma.

The placement (of the serial comma) is usual and regular, and any ambiguity that results of the sequence and its associations has nothing to do with the ambiguity avoided by regular, consistent placement of the final serial comma.

That seems another point about disambiguating the ambiguities: there are different ambiguities about the forward associations of the items and the particular connection of the final items.

"In American English, the serial comma is part of the style (and form). In British English, the serial comma may be part of the style. The serial comma is always allowed as a matter of form. As a matter of consistency in style, punctuation style should be the same throughout the Wikipedia article. Placement of the serial comma is proper in English, the serial comma's omission is improper in some forms (and styles) of English (as written and spoken)."

Yes, then this is somewhat advocative of one style over the other, here with the notion that it may be acceptable for the Wikipedia as grammatical and syntactical reference to English to include that the serial comma is allowed, and, that in some conditions its omission is not allowed, regardless of style, instead as a matter of form and the author's intent. That seems reasonably enough a statement (as can be re-worded) of the significance of the comma universally.

— Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:02, 2 January 2016 (UTC)

It is not clear to me exactly what you are suggesting here, but it might be appropriate to look at WP:NOTAGUIDE. Wikipedia does not make recommendations (except to its own editors). The article already discusses American usage adequately, including where American usage is to include the serial comma and where it is not (the APA Stylebook, for instance, normally prescribes non-use of the serial comma).--Boson (talk) 22:36, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
I have now twice reverted the recent edits which again attempted to assert, within personal commentary and an appeal to the MoS, that the serial comma is always correct. This is not what this Wikipedia article claims. The same IP editor has also, contrary to the MoS, added the serial comma to at least one article when it was not grammatically needed and contrary to the usual punctuation in British English. The IP seems to have personal agenda on this issue and wishes to impose it. This is not acceptable. Afterwriting (talk) 07:27, 8 January 2016 (UTC)

Great job FrindleandInk[edit]

Great addition to an already good article! Please keep on doing what you like the best. Best Regards,

Barbara (WVS) (talk) 09:05, 24 June 2016 (UTC)

Lack of Oxford Comma Could Cost Maine Company Millions in Overtime Dispute[edit]

Source: The New York Times

"A class-action lawsuit about overtime pay for truck drivers hinged entirely on a debate that has bitterly divided friends, families and foes: The dreaded — or totally necessary — Oxford comma, perhaps the most polarizing of punctuation marks.

What ensued in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and in a 29-page court decision handed down on Monday, was an exercise in high-stakes grammar pedantry that could cost a dairy company in Portland, Me., an estimated $10 million...."

Kevin Baastalk 17:08, 17 March 2017 (UTC)

Already in the article, at the end of the "Resolving ambiguity" subsection. Deor (talk) 17:14, 17 March 2017 (UTC)
... but NYT report is probably a bit better, so I have added the ref. GrindtXX (talk) 19:16, 17 March 2017 (UTC)

BTW: the WP article on the serial comma claims that "the list x, y and z is unambiguous if y and z cannot be read as in apposition to x." Doesn't the lawsuit prove that statement wrong? --Yen Zotto (talk) 10:50, 21 March 2017 (UTC)

I wouldn't go that far, but I believe at least the small sub-section is (as currently worded) original research and misleading — and should be removed. It reads
===In general===
  • The list x, y and z is unambiguous if y and z cannot be read as in apposition to x.
  • Equally, x, y, and z is unambiguous if y cannot be read as in apposition to x.
  • If neither y nor y[,] and z can be read as in apposition to x, then both forms of the list are unambiguous; but if both y and y and z can be read as in apposition to x, then both forms of the list are ambiguous.
  • x and y and z is unambiguous if x and y and y and z cannot both be grouped.
The first three assume only one sort of ambiguity, i.e. that caused by the possibility of apposition. In the legal case, the ambiguity (if there is any) is caused by the possibility of having a minor list within a major list.
We should probably give more weight to this cause of ambiguity. It is currently very briefly mentioned:
"Consider also:
My usual breakfast is coffee, bacon and eggs and toast.
It is unclear whether the eggs are being grouped with the bacon or the toast. Adding a serial comma removes this ambiguity."
The text in the court case is more complicated. It reads
"The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of ..."
The lower court decided that the text was unambiguous, but the appeal court decided it was ambiguous (within the meaning of the Maine labor law, which requires a liberal interpretation in case of [the slightest?] ambiguity). The problem is that the ambiguity relies on the acceptability of asyndetic lists. In other words, the text is ambiguous only if you accept constructions of the form
"The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing of ..." [with no conjunction before packing].
--Boson (talk) 15:51, 21 March 2017 (UTC)

Legal punctuation[edit]

There is a fascinating and sometimes amusing discussion of legal punctuation, including commas, in F.A.R. Bennion's Statutory Interpretation: a Guide—the leading text on the subject in England. I have access only to the 2nd edn 1992 and the book is now in its 6th edn with a 7th on the way; but it is written as if it were a legal code and, at least in the 2nd edn, the discussion is in Section 258 Punctuation. Bennion says: "Punctuation is a device not for making meaning, but for making meaning plain. ... The good drafter consciously drafts every clause with an eye to what its sense would be if all such marks were removed." That could have been helpful in Maine. Wikiain (talk) 01:57, 13 May 2017 (UTC)

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Other languages[edit]

Does this ever-increasing section really have a place in the English Wikipedia? It seems to me about as useful as a comprehensive list of countries which don't use the term "fubar". Ian Dalziel (talk) 12:24, 1 January 2018 (UTC)

The Guardian[edit]

The style guide of The Guardian is currently listed in the article as "opposing typical use". However, when I look at what is quoted, it only says that straightforward lists "do not need" a serial comma. That appears to be saying that the comma is considered unnecessary, but it does not appear to directly express a preference for omitting it. In fact, to the contrary, it says "sometimes it can help the reader" and "sometimes it is essential". Should this be removed from the category of "opposing typical use"? —BarrelProof (talk) 19:47, 3 March 2018 (UTC)

This may be a problem of the "excluded middle", possibly created by the recent change in the heading from "obligatory" to "typical". The style guide could be formulated more unambiguously but the intended meaning (as understood by Guardian journalists) is clearer if you read the Guardian (look for "red, white and blue"): for the Guardian, its use is not obligatory (as the heading previously said), but the Guardian does not insist on not using it either, permitting its use (or omission) where useful. If the change away from obligatory is maintained, it might be necessary to either distinguish between "always use the serial comma", "never use the serial comma", "the serial comma is optional but be consistent" (e.g. Cambridge University Press), and "the serial comma is optional and can be used for stylistic reasons or to convey information" (the last possibly with a default preference for or against use, or no preference). Alternatively, the system of headings could be changed completely, but preferably without making it more difficult for the reader to understand which publications require the serial comma. --Boson (talk) 02:53, 4 March 2018 (UTC)
You said Cambridge University Press considers it optional. Can we find a quote from it that says that? The article quotes The Cambridge Guide to English Usage as saying that "In British practice there's an Oxford/Cambridge divide …", but does not say what the Cambridge position actually is. From the current quote, we only know that that the Cambridge position is different from the Oxford position.
On the other hand, I wonder whether we should remove the Cambridge Guide altogether, since it is apparently a descriptive guide rather than a prescriptive one. The Wikipedia article describes it as giving "an up-to-date account of the debatable issues ... based on extensive, up-to-date corpus data rather than on the author's personal intuition or prejudice". If it is merely descriptive, it would ultimately consider all things to be somewhat discretionary and merely statistical.
BarrelProof (talk) 18:22, 4 March 2018 (UTC)


The article currently says that Fowler's Modern English Usage recommends using the serial comma. That is a very well known and widely recognized work. However, Fowler's is not included in the list of "Recommendations by style guides". Is it true that Fowler's recommends it? Why is Fowler's not included in the list of style guides? —BarrelProof (talk) 20:43, 3 March 2018 (UTC)

Fowler's is interesting.
  • The fourth edition (2015) says "The so-called 'Oxford comma' is an optional comma that follows the penultimate item in a list of three or more items and precedes the word 'and'.... The general rule is that it should be used consistently or not at all. ... However, the Oxford comma can help to avoid ambiguity, ... and it is sometimes helpful to the reader to use an isolated serial comma for clarification, even when the convention has not been adopted in the rest of the text." [1]
  • The third edition (1996) had "Where more than two words or phrases or groupings occur together in a sequence, a comma should precede the and.... The 'Oxford comma' is frequently, but in my view unwisely, omitted by many other publishers. Their preference is to omit it as a general rule ... but to insert it if there is a danger of misunderstanding."[2]
  • The second edition (1965) gives the recommended example French, German, Italian and Spanish and says "... there is no comma after Italian because, with and, it would be otiose. There are, however, some who favour putting one there, arguing that, since it may sometimes be needed to avoid ambiguity, it may as well be used always for the sake of uniformity. " There follow a couple of sentences where the use of a comma before and is (exceptionally) recommended (for different reasons to avoid different types of ambiguity).[3]
--Boson (talk) 03:51, 4 March 2018 (UTC)


  1. ^ Fowler, H.W. (2015). Butterfield, Jeremy, ed. Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-966135-0.
  2. ^ Fowler, H.W.; Burchfield, R.W. (1996). The New Fowler's Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-198-61021-2.
  3. ^ Fowler, H.W.; Gowers, Sir Ernest (1965). A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press.
I suspect the reason it hasn't hitherto been included is that it isn't, in the narrow technical sense, a "style guide" (i.e. a set of firm guidelines and prescriptions, to be adhered to strictly when writing within a particular context): it's rather more discursive and open-ended than that. However, we call it a style guide in our article on it, and there's certainly no reason not to include the above material here. GrindtXX (talk) 15:25, 4 March 2018 (UTC)

UK Government National Curriculum[edit]

The UK Government National Curriculum content described here seems to have been revised. The prior PDF file has been replaced with a new one that says serial commas are acceptable. I suppose someone may have realised that Oxford is in the UK. These may not be documents that are prepared very carefully and approved through a very formal process (e.g., the phrase "a number ingredients" seems odd). I therefore removed that from the article. (It was only there for a few hours, and it was also me that added it in the first place.) —BarrelProof (talk) 03:12, 4 March 2018 (UTC)

On the other hand, the University (as opposed to the OUP) now does not generally use the 'Oxford comma' (unless it is helpful in preventing ambiguity) or the -ize spelling, so noticing that Oxford University is in the UK may work both ways. --Boson (talk) 04:15, 4 March 2018 (UTC)
Yes but it seems clear that if a very prominent institution in one's own country considers something to be correct, it is highly questionable to give someone low marks on exams for following that guidance. —BarrelProof (talk) 18:38, 4 March 2018 (UTC)

Creating ambiguity how?[edit]

In the example sentence appearing within the Creating ambiguity section, "To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God," the argument for ambiguity is that the comma in front of ‹Ayn Rand› introduces an appositive clause. However, as I was taught, in this case ‹Ayn Rand› is an essential appositive because it goes from less specific to more specific, so no comma is placed there. (Thus the correct sentence with ‹Ayn Rand› as an appositive with ‹mother› would be "To my mother Ayn Rand and God." There should be no comma before ‹and› because there are only two list items.)

Well, if you don't consider ‹Ayn Rand› to be essential because ‹my mother› is already specific enough, then this whole argument falls apart at the seams. But I feel that this counterargument should appear somewhere within the article. (talk) 05:38, 9 January 2019 (UTC)