Oh for the want of a comma

It was only last week that one of my colleagues picked me up for putting a comma before an “and” saying you should never do this.

I explained that who ever had taught them this was wrong and that not only was it it was proper in some circumstances but extremely important to use it correctly where appropriate.

I showed example after example but I am not sure they were convinced and then over the weekend I read an article about this very issue.

Today a broker, Matt [surname and email provided] sent me a link to the same article confessing that he was old school.

The article on ABC News was headed: The case of the $13 million comma and why grammarians are rejoicing. This in turn refers to another article which can be found here:  Click here.

My response to Matt was:

I am both old fashioned and worked damn hard to understand (and get a good mark in English) at night school back in my early 20’s after I realised just how important correct grammar in my profession.

Commas, etc in contracts, legislation etc are critical to getting the intention of the drafter correct.

You do not have to use commas, there are other ways of doing it as well but it is something I and the policy drafting team at LMI agonise over whenever we draft a wording or endorsement and of course in preparing expert opinion reports.

Our claims and legal teams are also trained carefully in this when it comes to policy interpretation.

It does scare me just how much copying and pasting goes on in our industry, spelling mistakes and all, let alone poor grammar.

Thanks Matt for sharing the article.



When I hear people say that you should never use a comma before “and” it reminds me of the other one that is often quoted about never ending a sentence with a preposition. This in turn reminds me of Winston Churchill’s (who won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1953) reply which read:  “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

English is such a powerful and yet complicated language it probably best to say “never say never”and then check and re-check.


2 responses to “Oh for the want of a comma”

  1. Catherine says:

    I wish there were more people using the Oxford comma. I was first made aware of it at university, by an Italian lecturer who added them in my essays, and who showed me why and how to use them. I have used them since, as they certainly avoid ambiguity in some cases, and in my opinion they contribute to a more elegant writing style.
    Some publications, such as The New Yorker, always use them; others don’t. It is also used in some languages, such as Italian, more frequently than in English (incidentally, the modern comma was developed by an Italian publisher). There is a wonderful book, written by Mary Norris (a former proof-reader of The New Yorker) called “Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen.” It is a great book for grammar aficionados, and speaks in length about this very topic. Following is a link to an extract from the book:

  2. Cheryl Richardson says:

    Love this! And did not know about the “serial comma”. Makes so much sense and have already put it to use today.

    Another insightful post from the Professor!

    Thanks Allan

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