The Oxford com­ma (also known as the ser­i­al com­ma) is a com­ma used before “and” at the end of a list. It’s named after Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, which pop­u­lar­ized its usage as a way to clar­i­fy the mean­ing of some sen­tences.

For exam­ple:

I need to buy jalapeños, habaneros, and Scotch pep­pers.

The last com­ma is the Oxford com­ma.

The thing is that there is a pret­ty vocal camp that refus­es to use the com­ma. Usu­al­ly, they argue that using the com­ma is unnec­es­sary and uneco­nom­i­cal. Per­son­al­ly, I think that’s a weak argu­ment.

In many cas­es, leav­ing out the com­ma won’t make much of a dif­fer­ence, but often, the Oxford com­ma pro­vides clar­i­ty. Con­sid­er these exam­ples:

  1. I’d like to thank my par­ents, Ayn Rand and God.
    I’d like to thank my par­ents, Ayn Rand, and God.
  2. We invit­ed the strip­pers, JFK and Stal­in.
    We invit­ed the strip­pers, JFK, and Stal­in.
  3. I had eggs, toast and orange juice. [It seems the author is address­ing the toast and OJ.]
    I had eggs, toast, and orange juice.
  4. I like going on vaca­tion, hang­ing with friends, drink­ing beer and dri­ving fast.
    I like going on vaca­tion, hang­ing with friends, drink­ing beer, and dri­ving fast.
  5. I bought pop, peanut but­ter and choco­late. [Is this a Reese peanut but­ter cup?]
    I bought pop, peanut but­ter, and choco­late.

In all the above cas­es, the Oxford com­ma clar­i­fies the ambi­gu­i­ty cre­at­ed by its absence.

Where do you sit on the debate? Love it? Hate it?

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness. Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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