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BONUS VIDEO – The Oxford comma

David and Paige tackle the great comma debate of our time: Oxford comma or no Oxford comma? 

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hey grammarians, hey Paige. - [Voiceover] Hi David. - [Voiceover] So we're gonna talk today about the Oxford comma, which is just another word for another name for the serial comma which is normally when you have a list of things, you punctuate them with a comma after each item. So for example, in this sentence: I'd like to thank my parents, comma, Mahatma Gandhi, comma, and my pet hamster. Or in this example: His favorite artists are Elvis, comma, a tiny Norwegian harpist, comma, and Frida Kahlo. Now this is a pretty big... controversy in English is where to put this comma. Some style guides for example the AP style guide recommends that you don't include this last comma. The style guide that Khan Academy uses, the Chicago Manual of Style, does recommend it. Ultimately this is less about grammar and more about style, less about sense and more about taste. 'Cause you can make, I think, a pretty convincing argument against each one, like whether to use the Oxford comma or whether to not use the Oxford comma. Paige, could you take me through the possible ambiguity in this first sentence? - [Voiceover] Sure, so this sentence without the Oxford comma can kind of look like you're saying that you're parents are Mahatma Gandhi and your pet hamster, which is pretty crazy. - [Voiceover] Right, and the second one is a sort of sentence that could be used to make the argument against the Oxford comma. So his favorite artists are Elvis, a tiny Norwegian harpist, and Frida Kahlo, and it could be argued that you're saying that Elvis, the rock-n-roll progenitor, hip-swivel guy was a tiny Norwegian harpist, which is not true. Both of these things are kind of examples of assumed apposition that we're using. We're using Mahatma Gandhi and my pet hamster to explain or clarify parents. Or that we're using a tiny Norwegian harpist to explain or clarify Elvis. And this is not the case. I think you have to choose which kind of confusion is more important for you to avoid. Frankly, the way to fix these sentences is to put the uncertain thing elsewhere in the sentence. So probably last, like I'd like to think. Mahatma Gandhi, my pet hamster and my parents. And there's no confusion no matter where you put the comma there. Or his favorite artists are Elvis, Frida Kahlo, and a tiny Norwegian harpist. - [Voiceover] Yeah, that does a good job of avoiding that confusion. - [Voiceover] A good craftsman never blames their tools. That's all I gotta say about that. So Paige and I are here to report. We're not here to make law. We're trying to tell you about the language as it is and the way people use it. Well we do at Khan Academy is we use the Oxford comma, so parents, comma, Mahatma Gandhi, comma, and my pet hamster, or Elvis, comma, a tiny Norwegian harpist, comma, and Frida Kahlo. - [Voiceover] Yeah. - [Voiceover] You have to find a style guide and stick with it. And sometimes that depends on if you're writing for a newspaper that uses a particular style guide, or if your English teacher has a particular style guide that they want you to abide by, that's what you should follow. - [Voiceover] Exactly. Different people will tell you different things. - [Voiceover] The key is to be consistent. That's the Oxford comma. That's the debate over it. And it's really all about a false sense of these being appositives. So keep a wary eye out. That's the Oxford comma. You can learn anything. David out. - [Voiceover] Paige out.