Of Commas and Capitalisation

In our last post, we told you why we keep Grammar Nazis at arm’s length. This post runs counter to that theme: here, we explain two grammatical functions we like. Both are subtle, but their usage makes things clear for readers, which is why we like them. Also, their absence can lead to hilarious consequences!

The first function we love is the Oxford comma, which is a comma that comes before the word “and”. The pause induced by the Oxford comma (also called the Harvard comma) prevents confusion in the mind of the reader. A classic example is this book dedication: To my parents, Ayn Rand and God. The phrase could be misunderstood to mean the writer’s parents are Ayn Rand and God. In such cases, a comma before the “and” tells us we are talking about separate entities and prevents a misunderstanding.

The second function we want to talk about is capitalisation. As one very irritated purist points out in a message circulating on WhatsApp, “The difference between capitalisation is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.” The capitalisation drives home the point that the person has an uncle named Jack. Otherwise, he just has a very kinky uncle. We have always been fans of proper capitalisation. This example makes even more committed to it.

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