Is Correct Punctuation a Cultural Thing?

I watched this video from Professor Tim Wilson where, amongst other things, he explores the so called Oxford Comma from his perspective as a teacher of English

So, I went in search of further information…

I’m fascinated by the use (or abuse) of language and how easily, in this day and age of electronic communication, meanings can often be so easily misunderstood or misinterpreted without the proper use of punctuation. Reading many poorly constructed posts on SF attests to that.
My favourite book on this subject is Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

Does correct grammar and punctuation matter to you?


It mattered to my knuckles when I was at school, not so much now though,but then again I don’t write that often!

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Yes ,they do matter to me. But I am not very good at the use of comma, semicolon or other puncuating symbols.
I am sure most of my posts have some grammatical errors.

Not too sorry though - try to write and spell german when it is not your first language


Absolutely! For me written language is a means to communicate and if the structure and order of the words on the page is poor or sloppy then there is every possibility I will either (a) misunderstand or (b) dismiss that person’s communication - so if they are trying to say something important in fact I will attribute less importance to their words.
I find some modern authors bore and irritate me because they write poorly. I do not want to have to work at the thoughts behind the words. I want the thoughts themselves to come shining through due to the clarity of the writing.
For me it is three things that get in the way - spelling mistakes, grammar and punctuation.
I think it is a great shame that more is not made of this in schools these days.
It’s harsh and elitist, but it is a fact that someone who can write well will be more successful in this world.

By the way, a good rule I learnt many years ago about commas: “if in doubt, leave it out”. :grin:

I am not, of course, including in this anyone who is dyslexic - that is a whole other story.


with the consequent risk of misinterpretation - as outlined in the Blue Book link highlighted by the significant difference between:

We invited our grouchy neighbors, Jan and Ted.
We invited our grouchy neighbors, Jan, and Ted.

See the difference?


Surely one of the best contemporary novels is Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones - an entire novel written as a single sentence; then there’s what I and many others regard as the greatest novel ever written - Joyce’s Ulysses - with it’s entire last section punctuation-free ! - not to mention Finnegan’s Wake… e e cummings…


Forget correct punctuation, I’m happy to have a conversation with a Brit under 30 that doesn’t use the word “like” 2-3 times in a sentence where they fail to compare to similar things or state a preference.


Ah, but there wouldn’t be any doubt there, so if the second version is the correct one then I would include the comma.

can you not see that the second could imply that the neighbors as well as Jan and Ted were invited whereas the first example the neighbors are Jan and Ted…
Or did I miss some other subtle point you were making?

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Do correct grammar and punctuation matter? :wink::joy:


oops :flushed:


Edit….yes it could mean neighbours + + as you said. But clumsy wording with or without punctuation.

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Clarity of expression and context!

If I’m posting on SF I try to get it right, but won’t lose any sleep over the occasional missing comma or full stop.

However, like spelling and referencing format, if writing for publication it’s a very different matter. Occasionally I contribute book chapters and essays for exhibition catalogues, and usually have to adopt the publisher’s style manual, even if there’s elements I hate - like US spelling and punctuation.

Therefore I’d probably use an Oxford comma with a US publisher, but not with a UK one. Similarly, double quotation marks for written quotations in North America, whereas single ones are the norm in the UK.

And then there’s French punctuation, with all its seemingly unnecessary extra spaces - something that disappeared from English publishing over a century ago.

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Suspect the thread was prompted by the directive described below in this morning’s NY Times:-

'LONDON — The government department that oversees Britain’s state-run health care system is confronting a number of urgent problems: too many unfilled positions for doctors and nurses, too many patients waiting for treatment, too many aging hospitals — and, according to a new directive, too many commas.

The Department of Health and Social Care, which is under new leadership after Liz Truss became prime minister earlier this month, has told its employees to avoid using the Oxford comma — the contentious second comma in a series like “A, B, and C.”’

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Many years ago, I recall one teacher of English (in UK) explaining that it was too discouraging for the pupils… if she corrected their spelling and grammar mistakes…
and this was for 5th Year (GCSE) kids… :roll_eyes:

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I normally don’t contribute to this sort of discussion in case it turns nasty but…

I have just read one of the 2 main headlines in The Independent. A couple of commas would have stopped me reading it the way I did to start with. Of course the spacing didn’t help either!

  Hundreds queuing to see 
  Queen treated by paramedics 
  as wait exceeds 24 hours

Yes Angela, appalling standards by Journalists these days…
Why are these paramedics wasting time treating the dead Queen…


Unfortunately that was exactly my first reaction until I worked out what they were saying. I know I can be a bit slow but a couple of commas would have helped no end :smiley:


It’s usually young sub-editors, rather than the actual journos who are responsible for this sort of thing.

Below is an all too formulaic heading (my italics)

Biden says US democracy is under threat. Here’s what he can do to help fix it

Actually it’s a complete and utter lack of sub editors. In the main they have been let go and editors have to do just about everything these days.