What is an Oxford comma anyway?
Everyone remembers being taught the rule to add commas when you have three or more words, phrases, or clauses listed as a series in a sentence.
I like red, white, and yellow roses.
She bathed the baby, fixed dinner, and folded the laundry.
There is a faction of English grammarians who are advocating for dropping the last comma before the “and” in a series because it’s not needed.
I like red, white and yellow roses.
She bathed the baby, fixed dinner and folded the laundry.
Those who believe the comma still belongs after “and” refer to it as the “Oxford Comma” because it’s part of the publishing style of Oxford University Press.
Depending on who you talk to, either way is the correct way. Certain style guides require you to use the Oxford Comma, like the Oxford Style Manual, Chicago Manual of Style, and the MLA Style Manual. So if you’re writing for editors who conform to one of these styles guides, you’ll want to include the Oxford Comma.
If you have control over what you write and publish, you more than likely can choose whether or not to use the Oxford Comma.
If it increases the clarity of your sentence, use it.
We advocate a nuanced approach to the Oxford Comma. If the Oxford Comma helps clear up ambiguity, then by all means use it. If not, then it’s your call.
Consider some of the following examples:
- I’d like to thank my children, The Beatles and Oprah Winfrey.
Wait! Are your children really The Beatles and Oprah Winfrey? Clear up confusion and add the Oxford Comma.
The pet magazine Tails published the following headline on its front cover:
- Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog
Remind me never to eat with Rachel Ray.
Here’s a wonderful example from Wikipedia that I couldn’t resist. The Times once published a story about a documentary, stating:
- highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.
Oh my, Nelson! I never would have guessed.
Rather than set yourself up for a potential libel lawsuit, best to use the Oxford Comma, don’t you think? And now I'll leave you with one last Oxford comma joke. Enjoy!
Interested in other posts from our "Grammar School" series?
- Show, Don't Tell. What Do They Mean Anyway?
- What is a Cliché? And Why Should You Avoid Them?
- What are the Different Types of Verbs?
- What are Overused Words?
- What is POV? And How Do You Choose the Best POV for Your Story
- What is a Clause?