I Wish Only Death to the Serial Comma
If Dexter was a punctuation mark, he’d be a serial comma. They’re both bloody and unnecessary but at times, get the job done. I’m not a fan of either, though. In fact, I pretty much despise the serial comma. As for Dexter, well I haven’t watched enough episodes to cast any judgment yet.
The serial comma is one of those crazy annoying loopholes of grammar that defies all rules. In other words, you can use a serial comma or you can leave it out. Either way is acceptable and technically correct. Why the Grammar Police were playing so fast and loose with comma rules centuries ago, I have no clue.
At this point, you either strongly agree with me, are ready to have words with me or have no idea what the heck I’m talking about and you’re wondering what any of this has to do with Dexter. For starters, let me explain what a serial comma is.
When listing three, 10 or even 100 items, it’s your choice whether to place a comma before the “and” near the end of the list. The following two sentences are both correct.
My favorite superheroes are Captain America, Spider-Man and Batman.
My favorite superheroes are Captain America, Spider-Man, and Batman.
See, that last comma after Spider-Man in the second example isn’t necessary. Again it’s not wrong, just not necessary.
My problem is that there are times it is necessary to clarify what you are saying. Take this example:
My favorite sushi rolls are tuna, salmon and avocado and eel.
Without a serial comma, that sentence is a little confusing. Do I like salmon and avocado rolls? Or do I like avocado and eel rolls? Technically, they’re all good to me! But in this specific case, I would put a comma after avocado, because I was really referring to a salmon and avocado roll.
And that’s exactly the source of all my comma hatred. It’s not necessary to use a serial comma, but it can make sentences clearer at times. Personally, I just hate how the serial comma looks in a sentence. It’s ugly and just gets in my way. It slows me down while reading, even though it doesn’t have to.
Part of my problem, I guess, is that I spent a number of years working as a magazine editor. Most magazines and newspapers have their own style rules, which generally dictate to not use a serial comma. So it’s clearly been ingrained in my head already. On the flip side, I’m someone who hates exceptions to the rule. I enjoy symmetry and if something’s not evenly balanced, my OCD will kick in and make it line up.
That’s the crux of my internal balance with the serial comma. I hate it. I don’t want to use it. I hate how it looks. But I also know that it’s a necessary tool… sometimes. And that’s the part I really hate. It can be used sometimes, not all the times. For consistency’s sake, you should just use it all the time then. Even if you’re using it unnecessarily like 80% of the time.
The always punctual Grammar Girl wrote a great article about the Serial Comma (go check it out!). She explains the whole thing much better than I ever could. And while she favors using the serial comma in all instances, she does point out that it is a style choice.
Where does that leave me? Angry, frustrated and dazed and confused…
How much do you loathe the serial comma?