The Oxford Comma

You don’t get these problems in QUILl/PAW style lists do you Gareth?

I don’t really understand that argument. It’s precisely one extra character, expressing a natural pause in the pronunciation of a list, as tayruh said. To omit it implies you wouldn’t pause there, which produces ambiguity in speech as well as in the written word.

Granted, the parser should not require it of the player, if they are making a list of objects to take or whatever. Players are lazy and the parser should be tolerant. But the prose should be presented correctly. (Although “correctly” in this case is admittedly a moving target, depending on the intended audience and setting.)

Regional dialects are funny things. I have literally never heard of that – here it would only ever be abbreviated to “OJ”. “Orange” by itself can only ever refer to the fruit itself.


Or to a colour (color?) that is somewhere between yellow and red, and which gives its name to that particular fruit.

True, but I was meaning in the context of breakfast consumables and/or tea, as was the topic of discussion.

Yes, apparently we’ve come a long way since it was about punctuation :slight_smile: .

Milk and sugar?

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Interestingly, New Hart’s Rules, published by the Oxford University Press, focusses on consistency across a publication rather than taking a black and white view on whether always to use the Oxford comma.


Ferryman’s Gate II: The Curse of the Serial Separator
in which two grammaticists, a player and an author, at war with their common enemies, a narrative and a crossword, take a die-hard, black, and white view on whether always to use the Oxford comma.


Here’s a defused version of the JFK and Stalin example:

  1. You can see the cleaning crew, Alice and Bob.


  1. You can see the cleaning crew, Alice, and Bob.

Who did you see?

  1. You saw the cleaning crew, which was composed solely of Alice and Bob.

  2. You saw an unknown number of unnamed people who made up the cleaning crew. Alice and Bob were there too, but were not part of the cleaning crew.


That’s a good argument against the proposition that the Oxford comma should never be used. Going back to the original post, it doesn’t follow that the Oxford comma should always be used in Inform - unless that sort of ambiguity necessarily occurs in every game. Maybe it does?

We’re talking about listing items in random orders. Unless you want to hardcode all versions of that list to guarantee there’s no ambiguity, it’s a lot safer to include the Oxford comma, and those opposed to it will have to suffer the horrible misfortune of having to read an entire extra character.


Haha maybe so! But I trust Graham Nelson’s genius - if the Oxford comma really were necessary in every game then I am sure he would not have left us the option :slight_smile:

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I don’t think people really strictly pause when speaking at every oxford comma. They use a variety of inflections, emphasis, and verbal queues. We don’t have a big enough toolkit in writing to express it. So it’s best to choose to form unambiguous sentences. i.e. “toast mixed with orange juice” if that’s what they meant, not “toast and orange juice”

Based on the rules of not adding an extra comma with two items, if you really did have “toast mixed with orange juice” and chose to express it as “toast and orange juice” then the proper formation of the sentence with two subjects would be: “I had eggs and toast and orange juice.” The Oxford comma rule followed to a tee, did not help there.

I do agree that your 3 pairs of items in a list did benefit from a comma. But, again what if it was just two items. Should it then be…

“The clothing on the rack came in various styles including thin and revealing and loose and comfortable.”

The point being, there is ambiguity even using the rules, so best to avoid ambiguous sentences entirely, and choose what looks best.


It wasn’t off topic. The rule says to use it for three or more items, but don’t use it for two items. But two item lists can also be ambiguous. So its not a panacea of dis-ambiguity. There are even some notable examples where it causes ambiguity.

It’s stylistic.

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While I’m sure my preference for Oxford comma has been made clear, my main concern is just the fact that the list is automated. The question wasn’t “should I include Oxford comma in handwritten room descriptions?” it was about generating inventory or content lists.

My first thought is, just use the comma. Item lists are one of the most necessary but immersion breaking parts of parser games. It’s the part that makes it feel the most like a game and not a story. Because of that, I feel having a comma here but not other places is fine.

My second though is, it actually wouldn’t be that difficult just to check to see if either the second to last or last item contain an “and” in their name. If so, use a comma. If not, don’t use a comma. That’d probably be the best of both worlds because it would solve the issue of the list of paired items that I gave the example of earlier.

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I wondered earlier whether Inform does this, but haven’t had a chance to check (edit: it doesn’t seem to).

If not, then the an author (who is considering keeping the default of no serial commas) has to consider whether the game’s things’ names could lead to ambiguity.

I never thought I’d ever spend the day debating this topic. Maybe mankind will resolve some of its long-standing problems over lockdown!


If we crack this one then I’m pretty sure global peace and climate stability will follow in its wake.


…but what should we solve after misused commas, global peace and climate stability?



I had an orange and mango juice.

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Misplaced apostrophe’s.

That physically hurt to type.


I can get being indifferent to the oxford comma, but it really surprised me to see there are people who are strongly opposed to it. I’m just going to have to assume, for my own sanity :wink:, that comments calling it things like a “speed bump” are hyperbole.

Once we’ve solved the oxford comma, global peace, climate stability, and misplaced apostrophes, then we’ll be ready to solve the debate over tabs vs spaces.

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