To Comma or Not to Comma, That Is the Question

For those of us educated in the journalism field it’s a no-brainer. We were taught to follow the strict rules of The AP Stylebook and the answer is clear–do not add that serial comma for fear of having a journalism professor rip up your paper or your editor look at you as if you’re an idiot. The use of serial commas in the newsroom can be summed up in one word-Never!

But after many years in the newspaper and magazine arena, my sights turned to books. I began to edit books slated for publication in New York. That meant making sure that the style of the publishing house was followed, not my previous editor at the paper. I was told that the style to follow was The Chicago Manual of Style. No problem, I said, thinking it would be easy to convert a few things. What I didn’t expect was the slap in the face staring up at me from the page-the serial comma was there, plain as day, and smiling, “I’m back!”

Now what? Of course I put it in there, it’s needed if Chicago Style and the publisher say it is. But with all my being it was forced out of me. For a short time it hurt to put it there. I left it out because it was my habit and had to go back and reread my work to put it back in.

After some time I realized something strange had happened-I was adding the serial comma automatically. I no longer had to think about it, or reread material to find out where I left it out. My good friend, a former newspaper editor, tells me it kills her to see my e-mails with those commas. She feels the way I used to. I don’t notice them now, but I do notice when I’m reading whether there is a serial comma or not. If there is, I like to think it justifies my new habit. If there isn’t, I assume there’s a classically trained journalist around somewhere.

What’s your take on this? Are you a publisher, agent, editor, or writer? What do you think about this comma? I’ve asked this question on Twitter and got some great responses. (Pro and con) I think it’s a personal, professional, and touchy choice. (Notice the comma???)


3 thoughts on “To Comma or Not to Comma, That Is the Question

  1. First, I love that a comma can cause such controversy! 🙂 I just completed my B.A. in English with an editing minor, and we always used Chicago….So I’m a little biased. But even before studying editing, I liked the serial comma because it makes the sentence so much clearer, in my opinion.

    • I suppose if you’ve used Chicago style all the time, it would probably seem strange to leave it out, yes? Thanks for your input, I’m always fascinated by the conversations that surround this little comma.

  2. Coincidentally this came up in class today — and I mentioned you and your use of the comma versus mine. I look forward to seeing, along with you, what the rest of the world has to say.

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