Where did the serial comma go? Some people call it the Oxford comma, and a lot of people forget to use it. Before I continue, the serial comma comes before the final conjunction in a list of three or more elements. I bought grapefruits, apples, and chickpeas. It is an essential comma because it keeps the final two items separate. In the previous example, I bought all those things separately. Without the comma before the 'and,' the sentence would have suggested that apples and chickpeas are one item. To make fun of this, let's turn to some popularized examples: I met the strippers, Obama and Stalin (with the comma, I met strippers, I met Obama, and I met Stalin). He eats shoots and leaves. (I left the commas out—put it where you want and it changes everything. He ate, he shot, he left; he ate shoots and leaves; he ate shoots then left.) You get the point. If not, the point is to use the serial comma unless you purposefully don't want it. That being said, it has become all too common to omit the comma, which is where I must ask, why?
The most likely culprits are journalists back when they wrote things by hand. The final comma took extra time to write and thus was omitted. Somehow that trend has bled into popular thought and prevailed as a poor stylistic habit. In fact, A Manual of Writers, Chicago Manual of Style, Gregg Reference Manual, Scientific Style and Format, and my favorite Elements of Style all state that the serial comma should be used in a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction. Who argues against it? The Associated Press Stylebook. Unless you work for the AP, use the bloody serial comma.
Now for one of my favorite examples, which I once saw on a magazine cover: Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog. Strangely, no charges have been brought against her.
What follows are a few grammar rules that a few of us may have known since grammar school yet aren't as steadfast as we might think.
Rule #1: Don't use passive voice.
It gives me joy to say that this is not a solid black and white grammatical rule. Yes, my teachers, throughout high school, drilled us that passive voice is the root of all evil, but I'm here to say it ain't. First of all, what is passive voice? Passive voice is when the subject of the sentence is acted upon by the verb (this sentence is in passive voice). An example: My only visit to Budapest will always be remembered by me. In active voice, it reads: I will always remember my only visit to Budapest.
Active voice does sound nicer and is more direct and thus more forcible. Now, before I continue, let me say that if you do not fully understand passive voice, avoid it. Active voice is stronger and better suited for most occasions. The fault in this rule lies in that it is not always better to use active voice. Take this passive voice sentence: The composers of the Rococo period are little remembered today. In active voice: Listeners today hardly remember the composers of the Rococo period. If you were writing about the listeners of music today, stick to the active, but if you were writing about the Rococo composers, what do you care about modern listeners? (Answer: you don't.) Using the passive voice here is better because it focuses our attention on the important subject—composers, not listeners.