What Is the Oxford Comma and Why Do People Care So Much About It?

What Is the Oxford Comma and Why Do People Care So Much About It?

The Oxford (or serial) comma is the final comma in a list of things. For example:

Please bring me a pencil, eraser, and notebook.

The Oxford comma comes right after eraser.

Use of the Oxford comma is stylistic, meaning that some style guides demand its use while others don’t. AP Style—the style guide that newspaper reporters adhere to—does not require the use of the Oxford comma. The sentence above written in AP style would look like this:

Please bring me a pencil, eraser and notebook.

Unless you’re writing for a particular publication or drafting an essay for school, whether or not you use the Oxford comma is generally up to you. However, omitting it can sometimes cause some strange misunderstandings.

I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.

Without the Oxford comma, the sentence above could be interpreted as stating that you love your parents, and your parents are Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty. Here’s the same sentence with the Oxford comma:

I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty.

Those who oppose the Oxford comma argue that rephrasing an already unclear sentence can solve the same problems that using the Oxford comma does. For example:

I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.

could be rewritten as:
I love Lady Gaga, Humpty Dumpty and my parents.

What do you think about Oxford comma? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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  • Russell Manning

    I prefer the Oxford comma.

  • Moe G.

    I like that sucker too. It’s symmetrical and pleasing, and the last two items don’t get grouped in my mind.

  • Weaky Sneasel

    Here’s an example sentence to help show why I think the Oxford comma should always be used, wherever possible: –
    – I like Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, and Tom and Jerry.

    This could be ordered, as suggested above for non-advocates, to:-
    – I like Tom and Jerry, and Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars.

    But may not be reordered to: –
    – I like Ziggy Stardust, Tom, Jerry and The Spiders from Mars.

    It is only consistent use of the Oxford comma (the comma proceeding the ‘and’, before the final item in the list) that makes it clear my original sentence is a list of two; and the only alternative is a semi-colon.

    Surely the Oxford comma is therefore critical, otherwise, to the unknowing it is potentially a list of four, i.e. by omitting the Oxford comma it becomes: –
    – I like Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars and Tom and Jerry.

    Which, of course, wrongly appears to be meaningfully indistinguishable from a four part list of: –
    – I like Ziggy Stardust, Tom, Jerry, and The Spiders from Mars.

    I firmly believe therefore, the only fully clear version from my examples above is this one: –
    – I like Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, and Tom and Jerry.

    With it’s beautiful and essential Oxford comma.

    • Steve Purple

      With its beautiful and essential Oxford comma.

      Sentence fragment aside, you’re just messing with us, right?

      • Weaky Sneasel

        Partially, yes, in terms of being overstated. In terms of where I deliberately left it out above, however, do you not agree my sentence was ugly and nonsensical?

    • tiptoe39

      If we’re talking about “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” as a single object, and “Tom and Jerry” as a single object, the sentence is actually grammatically correct with *no* commas in it. Your sentence is not a serial sentence because there are only two elements. Now, is it confusing with two elements, each containing an “and”? Absolutely, and it should certainly be rephrased. But you cannot defend that comma as an Oxford (serial) comma, because it is not in a series (which must contain at least three elements.)

      You would not put a comma in there if you were mentioning two nouns that did not contain “and”s, certainly!

      “I like Ziggy Stardust and Jerry Lewis.”
      You wouldn’t say “I like Ziggy Stardust, and Jerry Lewis,” would you?

      The grammar doesn’t change just because you have created compound nouns separated by an “and.” The clarity of the sentence changes, but the rule doesn’t.

      So this is not only not a defense of the Oxford comma, it’s a misplaced defense of a comma that’s incorrect to start with.

      • Weaky Sneasel

        Yes tiptoe, so you agree the comma was needed, but are arguing this comma is not an ‘Oxford comma’. OK, I fully accept your point, if I first accept your definition of an Oxford comma. However, I declared my understanding of it as a “comma preceding the ‘and'” in a list.

        And having looked it up, your definition is the one I find – not mine – so I’m wrong in my technical understanding of it, but it doesn’t quite make my point invalid, does it. It only opens the door ajar to the possibility of restructuring my sentence had I given a third noun.

        In which case, I could have written: my friend told me she likes “Jerry Lewis, David Bowie, and Tom and Jerry”. The Oxford comma is needed, and it cannot be restructured, as it is a quote.

        Rather than a misplaced defense therefore, it was perhaps only a failure to include a third item. The main point, that without it the sentence became confusing, we are agreed upon.

        And finally, I didn’t actually claim it was grammatically correct without it, I merely wrote it was an example of why I felt it should always be used. In other words: I was making the case for why, stylistically, I think it should always be used.

        • tiptoe39

          Actually, no, I don’t agree the comma is needed. With two items, there’s no comma between the two items.

          As to your point re: “Jerry Lewis, David Bowie, and Tom and Jerry,” the comma is required there regardless of whether your style guide requires a serial comma. Even when a style guide does not use the serial comma, there are times in which the comma is required – including when one of the series elements contain an “and.” So even in your three-element series, it’s not a strong defense of the use of the serial comma.

          Stylistically, you go with your bad self. But there’s a difference between personal style/writing aesthetics and capital-S Style, which is dictated by the publisher or publication you’re writing for. If you’re writing me an article for the Associated Press, and you complain when I take out the last comma in “red, white, and blue,” I’ll have zero sympathy for you, because the style guide, not you, decides whether there’s a comma there.

          I am just really sick of people thinking such a storied institution as the Associated Press is wrong somehow for not requiring the serial comma. By all means tout it as part of your personal aesthetic. But by the same token, allow me to defend institutions that don’t use it.

          • Weaky Sneasel

            Firstly, you wrote “is it confusing… Absolutely”. If that isn’t agreeing then I don’t know what is.

            More importantly, The Associated Press is an American institution, so entirely irrelevant when considering the Oxford comma, or any other part of the English language. It may have some relevance to the variant American-English, but not real English – poor argument, even though our press tend to drop it also.

            Finally, you are being overly defensive don’t you think – in which case you’ll probably be boiling over now – but I clearly declared it’s use as my personal preference – at no point did I ever criticise the absence of the Oxford comma. Where did I complain to you for omitting it?

          • tiptoe39

            Agreeing to the problem isn’t necessarily agreeing to the proposed solution.
            I agree the sentence is confusing as written, but disagree with your suggestion that a comma makes it clearer.

            I wasn’t aware that this conversation, or this blog, was limited to British English. I have no authority on British English. You can consider this entire conversation moot if you choose.

            I’m absolutely defensive. You would be too if you spent 12+ years honing your craft, sometimes unlearning the definitions of rules you’d held sacred and starting from scratch, to be told by some meme-loving Facebooker without a year of editing experience that you were always wrong and they were always right.

            Don’t take any of this personally. That’s my job. 😉

          • Weaky Sneasel

            Well, cheer up, you’re not wrong. I was wrong regarding the technical definition of what the Oxford comma actually is, but not on it’s use – it’s just a style difference.

            English is my heritage, but its an import to you. That said, the vast majority of English is imported, and was imported before formalised spelling and grammar even existed. Consequently, we often don’t like being told we’re wrong, simply because we’re not using standards set down for American-English, which we don’t even recognise as correct.

            As for moot, I was trying to bait you when I called AP irrelevant, although you’ll understand, I’m sure, it isn’t really applicable to us (the English).

          • tiptoe39

            Then we can just chock this up to a little friendly across-the-pond rivalry. No harm, no foul. And I’m not at all surprised that I took your bait! These are the perils of being a passionate person. 🙂

            Incidentally, when I speak of it as a style choice, I’m actually not talking about writing style/personal aesthetic. I’m speaking of the fact that publications and institutions (at least in the U.S.) set their own standards for whether to use it – and as of now, at least, that standard differs among different publishing houses, meaning it is not yet a universal rule.

            My point was not that you were wrong — just that there actually is no universal “wrong” in this case. Not yet, at least. If enough memes go around Facebook for long enough, even the AP may eventually change its tune.

          • Weaky Sneasel

            It’s just my opinion but I would expect English to gradually diverge further, not come back together for a universal standard – it’s too widespread nowadays.

            The English for a start, aren’t ever going to accept the language they have exported can be updated by anyone “outside” GB. Similarly, I suspect Americans will never agree that the English should be the rightful custodians of the English language, even if the rest of the commonwealth might.

            What I envisage is an eventual evolution, which eventually results in the phasing out of English, in the same way that most European languages stem from Latin, yet Latin is no longer a main language anywhere. Even Italians no longer speak Latin and instead have created Italian.

            There was an article on here recently on colour vs color, where it was explained, apparently, color is preferred but either spelling is acceptable. Here (England) color is not acceptable as an alternative, and never will be a legitimate, alternative spelling – it’s wrong, and nothing short. Grammarly is an American based site of course.

            By the way, shouldn’t the phrase be: “chalk this up…” – was this an odd Americanism, an error, or an errant auto-correct?

          • tiptoe39

            Hahahah oh god did I type that? Awright. I will bow out of the conversation on that embarrassing note. Nice chatting with you!

          • Dave

            The idea that American English isn’t as legitimate as British English is to assume that Americans adopted British English and changed it. That is wholly incorrect.

            First of all, English was brought to America by the British. Early Americans (Native Americans excluded) were from Britian. The English language belongs as much to Americans as it does to the British because the two groups got the language from the same place.

            That being said, at the time of the American revolution, there weren’t really definite rules for grammar and writing. Those rules were established separately post-Revolutionary War.

            The American style is often more traditional. For example, many of the spelling differences between American and British English are due to British divergence, i.e. word ending differences such as “-ize”/”-ise” and “-or”/”-our.”

            Same goes for the accent difference, by the way.

          • Weaky Sneasel

            Answering this properly would demand a significant amount of research and an even longer reply, however, for starters I’d like to clarify for you, there’s a difference between the ‘English’ and the ‘British’. And also, a difference between what was once English America and once British America. Additionally, less than half of what is America today was ever colonised by the English or the British.

            And for clarity, the country I live in, England, forms part of a broader alliance called the United Kingdom. In fact, ‘The Untied Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ is the name on our passports. ‘England’, ‘Great Britain’, ‘The United Kingdom’ and also ‘The British Isles’ are four distinctly different entities, all of which the English are a significant part.

            I confess, I’ve no idea prior to perhaps researching it, when America actually officially adopted English as their language. What I can say is, however, I might be able to almost agree technically with your phrase “The English language belongs as much to Americans as it does to the British” but I’m not writing to you here as a Briton (although I am one, as well as being English).

            I’m writing to you as an Englishman – and this is not the same thing at all in this context. Part of the problem perhaps, is the use of the term ‘British-English’, a term I personally dislike. I’m OK with fellow Britons using this term but it should be as internal term, not one that should really be used by outsiders, as it may wrongly imply, alternatives such as American-English could be equally valid alternatives.

            For instance, it would be absolutely wrong for you to have written “The English language belongs as much to Americans as it does to the English”! [a subtle but important distinction].

            No, no, no! This now, would not be the case, not at all. In fact, it would be disrespectful of my culture and heritage to the extent that it could reasonably be interpreted as borderline racist. I’ll draw a mild comparison here with the Washington Redskins controversy in terms of the broader use by outsiders of a minority’s cultural identity.

            So please be careful to recognise me as English in this discussion, not British for now, at least not in this context. ‘English’ absolutely does not belong to Americans as much as it does the English – I’m sorry, you’re just plain wrong here. It is my culture, my heritage, whereas for Americans it is merely the language that spawned their different new language.

            Let’s take a look at Australia for a moment. Parallels can be drawn between American settlers and Australian settlers having both originated from what is now the UK and usurping indigenous peoples. Yet, I’ve never heard an Aussie try to lay claim to English as equally theirs. Nor is Australian-English taught, or even recognised, as a language in it’s own right – their official language is English

            I once read there are 33 countries who use English as their official language, yet it seems a uniquely American thing to try to lay claim to it as theirs too. It might be like a Mexican trying to claim to the Spanish language as equally his.

            Americans, at some point, with a guy called Webster I believe, created a new second language; an off-shoot language; a sub-species if you will – American-English.

            Spellings were changed; grammar was altered. As an Englishman I have no claim to it, any more than I would to their pronunciation or accents; except to perhaps point out it was derived from my language.

            Americans took English and altered it, creating the corrupted bastardisation known as American-English. It is an irritation to us, a thorn in our sides, and we do not recognise it as legitimate – except when used strictly inside the USA.

            As an Englishman I’m respectfully telling you – Americans simply do not have equal claim to English. They cannot and must not try to lay equal claim to it. American-English is a partially evolved, different sub-species.

            It’s like comparing Indian elephants with African elephants, except in this case we know which language came first. So if the Aussies chose to form their own version, English would be the common ancestor between Aussie-English and American-English. As parent, English would be the more important relative with American-English merely a sibling/cousin.

          • Dave

            That’s great and all, except all those parts where you’re wrong. For instance, Webster didn’t change the spelling of words. As I said, at the time of the American revolution, the written language was in flux. Many of the spellings Noah Webster included were more prevalent than the ones included in the OED.

            Granted, Webster was a spelling reformer, wanting to do away with unnecessary complexities that caused non-phonetic spelling. This is a matter of logic in my mind, and it is something that I wish could have been done universally within the language. It is something that makes me proud of American English. The idea that words are spelled as they sound is more important to me than is traditional spelling, Latin origins, etc.

          • Weaky Sneasel

            The word colour, as one example, came to the English language from Old French where it was spelt ‘colour’. The French in turn took this word from Latin, where it had been spelt ‘color’. Probably because Latin was used by the church and most historical texts were written by monks, both spellings were once used and considered legitimate, although I might make the argument, the church had always been using the incorrect spelling, as English borrowed the word from Old French, not from Latin.

            There is an article on this site entitled ‘Color vs Colour’, which implies both spellings are acceptable in the USA, but ‘color’ is preferred. I am not sure if this is the case or if I have misunderstood but I am sure, only ‘colour’ is accepted over here nowadays.

            At some point the Latin spelling was dropped – I do not know when. Nor do I know when Webster got to work. Perhaps in America ‘colour’ has never officially been dropped; Webster may have come along before it was officially dropped here perhaps? Maybe Webster reinstated it later. I don’t know which in this example but I don’t think it’s true to say Webster didn’t change other spellings.

            What I can say is these changes happened in English many, many years before the American revolution to which you refer, so if this was Webster’s time, then he came along much, much later. The ise/ize change occurred, probably because the french do not have a ‘Z’ in their language, and the French invaded England in the year 1066, bringing their words, which began to be integrated at least several hundred years before Mr. Webster.

            So there’s little doubt the changes came earlier, it’s just a case of when we officially dropped the alternatives. Either way it seems most likely Webster was, at best, reintroducing rare or archaic spellings but I don’t know for sure.

            As for phonetics, this rather depends upon accent. Personally, I would not pronounce ‘color’ the same way I pronounce ‘colour’, although admittedly ‘colour’ is a learned pronunciation from childhood, rather than what may then have been an intuitive one. After all, don’t we both actually pronounce it ‘kulluh’? Labour/labor is another identical example which springs to mind, I’m sure there are several more.

            However, let’s look at another example, I do not believe ‘centre’ has ever been spelt ‘center’ in original English. I find no evidence, but I cannot be sure here either. If you consider the spelling of ‘central’ then dropping the ‘al’ for an ‘e’ seems entirely logical, whereas changing the ending to ‘er’ doesn’t really (at least not to me). And again, I would also pronounce ‘centre’ and ‘center’ slightly differently, so the logic doesn’t really carry forward here for phonetics either, unless it may happen to suit your particular accent perhaps?

            ‘Theatre’ not ‘theater’, from ‘theatrical’, works in the same way and again I’m sure there are many more. Admittedly there is a pronunciation rule at play again, which is learnt, i.e. to silence the ‘R’ and pronounce ‘tre’ as ‘tuh’, yet, once known it soon becomes intuitive; in the same way you’ve happily learned to pronounce ‘ceiling’ with an ‘S’ sound, I’m sure, i.e. don’t we both say ‘sealing’?

            Notice above, I’ve used the word ‘spelt’, from the Germanic or Saxon word – ‘spelta’. Am I correct in thinking Webster grammatically changed this to spelled, or am I mistaken? To you this may seem an ‘irregular’ form, but this ending is so common here it feels ‘regularised’, e.g. we use learnt not learned; burnt not burned; knelt not kneeled, et cetera, et cetera.

            It is interesting also, you use the logic argument, when from my perspective the changes Webster seems to have made, do not seem logical to me at all. “Logic in my mind” you write – perhaps, to you, but it’s not logical in mine!

            Actually, I don’t think this logic argument stands up anyway, as you wrote: –
            “The idea that words are spelled as they sound is more important to me than is traditional spelling, Latin origins, etc.”
            It is in fact American-English that is preserving the Latin spelling, not the English – ‘labor’ and ‘color’ were the traditional Latin spellings, not phonetic spellings, as they’re pronounced ‘kullah’ and ‘laybuh’.

            For ‘colour’ and ‘labour’ we’ll blame the French, but then, literally thousands of English words came from Old French, too many to count – yet only a few are spelt differently. Often spellings were changed to suit English accents. Nowadays however, when a word is imported, we tend to stick to the both the original foreign spelling and pronunciation, e.g. ‘schadenfreude’ and ‘double-entendre’.

            We could go on to how speech marks (‘) and quotation marks (“) are different here, and how with speech marks the punctuation always comes outside, at the end, whereas in America-English – I presume this was Webster too – they’ve been brought inside. Why? How can it be in any way logical not to end a sentence with a full stop (period to you)?

            I guess my real point is: what seems logical and intuitive to you, only seems that way because it’s what you are used to. To us it merely seems that Webster changed things for the sake of change, as these changes really do not make sense. And to us, he was messing with something that wasn’t actually his to mess with.

            We changed Fall to Autumn and more besides; you changed rubbish to garbage and or trash, and countless others. The two versions of English are evolving and diverging and we’ll just have to accept that – English is still in flux. If not, the only solution, it seems to me, would be to recognise the English as the sole authority on English and do it our way. That’s just not going to happen, is it? And not least because English is ubiquitous, so even if the English and Americans were to agree, who else would?

            My solution is for the English to at least preserve our English, before it goes the way of Latin.

          • Dave

            I’ll read all of that when I get the chance, but for now I’ll point out that most of America (save Boston, Brooklyn, maybe Philadelphia) say “color” as “cuh-ler.” Boston, in particular, is especially known for being non-rhotic.

          • Weaky Sneasel

            Yeah, got a bit carried away didn’t I – sorry.

            Your typed pronunciation of “cuh-ler” is making me chuckle heartily though. I can be pretty certain you’d say that completely differently to the way I’m reading it, which imparts upon you a French accent. I guess we should pass on attempting to spell phonetically, seeing as we seem to pronounce English so very differently. Particularly ironic, as it’s my British spelling – colour – which is the Old French derivative.

          • Suzanne Wheeler

            This sounds more social issue than language difference. Do I sense animosity toward Americans? Could this animosity spring from not wanting to see America as a world Power? What better way to put down Americans than to insult their use of the English language. I love the English language because it is alive. It changes. Changes are okay to everyone except those who hold to the past.

          • Weaky Sneasel

            Well that’s a little embarrassing for you, you made all that effort to read my protracted point and then misinterpreted – never mind! And if you’ve viewed it as an insult then you’ll no doubt do the same with this reply too, unfortunately.

            American-English is not the same as (English) English [or British-English if you prefer]. Any animosity you sense is towards a failure to recognise this and treat American-English as an equally legitimate alternative.

            It’s fine to use American-English, and American variations, inside USA – no problem. Inside the US, American-English is legitimate and it’s fine for Americans to change this language however they may wish.

            If you’re English, as I am, American variations are incorrect. Grey mustn’t be spelt ‘gray’; favourite mustn’t be spelt ‘favorite’; colour mustn’t be spelt ‘color’ et cetera.

            Genuine Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France – American Champagne is not an equal alternative, it is something different. Same principle really.

            So when you defend American-English, be sure to call it American-English. If you simply call it English then you’re talking about the other version – the primary version, not the alternative one.

          • Suzanne Wheeler

            I suppose we could be speaking Latin or some Norse language today if it had not been for Alfred the Great’s defeat of Viking invasions and his having English used as the language for educating the people of England back in the 9th century. Even Alfred, though, would have been shocked to read Chaucer’s English, a far cry from the Anglo-Saxon English Alfred knew, but far closer to our own, Modern English.
            Languages change. It’s what they do no matter how much we want them to remain the same. No single change (American English) makes the language better or worse than another change (Aussie lingo) or yet another, “Spanglish.” Each of these is rooted in the English of Beowulf, but no one would believe it.
            I wonder if Romans of 2 thousand years ago would have been as upset with changes to Latin as English speakers today seem to be upset with American, Australian, Canadian, South African, Nigerian, and other versions of English. What happened to Latin? It died, but not before it changed into French, Italian, and Spanish. Our language is alive and well. I cannot complain about changes that may irk me now (less vs. fewer, amount vs. number, absence of the serial comma, and more) because the very beauty of English is in its use and in its change. Changes make English the living language it is. Let’s celebrate … cheers!

      • DeGriffe

        The comma between two nouns can be vital. Note the difference between “I like liver, and ice cream,” and, “I like liver and ice cream.”

        • tiptoe39

          That is not a grammatically correct comma. Not every confusing sentence is an ungrammatical one; not every insertion of a comma creates a correct sentence.

          • DeGriffe

            Yes, tiptoe39, it is. Your logic is faulty.

          • tiptoe39

            http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/01/13/finding-commas-in-all-the-wrong-places/ Don’t use commas to separate two nouns or noun phrases in a compound object.

            Don’t put a comma between the two nouns, noun phrases, or noun clauses in a compound subject or compound object.

            Don’t separate two nouns in a compound subject, or two objects, with a
            comma. There can be more than one subject or object in a sentence.

            Please see the examples in any of these posts. Your sourcing is faulty.

          • DeGriffe

            I find myself in agreement with all of the posts you’ve referenced.

            In particular,

            “Commas are used to separate words and phrases into chunks of information that make sense to the reader. Correct use of commas allows the reader to take in the information without pause. Incorrect use of commas can cause confusion or even a misreading of the information.” – theeditorsblog.net

            “Use commas wherever necessary to prevent possible confusion or misreading.” – owl.english.purdue.edu

            “Keep in mind, though, that occasionally the serial comma is necessary for clarity.” – http://www.grammarly.com

            In short, communication with clarity and precision is the entire point of good grammar. If a person reads rules of grammar and finds himself persuaded that the rules are to be applied without regard to his readers’ understanding, he is hopelessly obtuse, and can receive no value from instruction; therefore, none further will be given.

    • Nick Harman

      Never mind the Oxford comma, what about Weaky’s final sentence?

      ‘With it’s beautiful and essential Oxford comma.’


      Best get the basics right before moving on to the trickier stuff. Did no one else notice? Worrying.

      • Weaky Sneasel

        Thank you, I’d missed that.

        Far worse than this – I sent an e-mail the other day using you’re instead of your. It’s more of a ‘typo’ however, I just got a little trigger happy with the apostrophe key. No excuses though – a mistake is a mistake.

        • Nick Harman

          Anyway, should you ever find an Oxford comma is needed for clarity just rewrite the sentence properly.

          • Weaky Sneasel

            I would absolutely agree, rewriting should always be your first option, but that’s fudging the issue slightly, and why I gave an example, which couldn’t be rewritten. Besides, when punctuating a verbal quotation, in order to correctly convey to the reader what was said, cannot involve restructuring, or you’re no longer quoting.

            When you can’t restructure, the Oxford comma is: sometimes essential; sometimes irrelevant – but never incorrect, so, if in doubt, the rule should be to put it in rather than risk misinterpretation. Leaving it out will never improve the understanding; it will only ever risk foul, so why leave it out? It’s just laziness.

            If you’d like to provide me with an example where use of it detracts (I’ve given examples of where omission causes a problem) I’d be pleased to see it; otherwise I stay with my point – be consistent and keep it in.

          • Nick Harman

            I would move heaven and earth to avoid it. Apart from anything else it offends the cultured eye as well as taste and decency. If the quote was written in the first place, fine, the inverted commas make it clear it was the original writer’s fault, not mine. If I was writing down what I’d heard, I’d change it. Rarely do we write down what someone says verbatim, after all.

          • Weaky Sneasel

            “…it offends the cultured eye”.

            OK, so – ‘Recognisable 70s icons include Batman and Robin, Simon and Garfunkel and Tom and Jerry’.

            To see this example written without the appropriate Oxford comma, it is my sensibilities which are offended. And, had the groupings not been icons and instantly recognisable, it would have been tricky to decipher and would have required a double or triple take. Would my kids have asked “Who are…”

            I mean – if we were constructing rather than quoting it, we could have ended, ‘…the intrepid duo “Batman and Robin”‘, or such like, but it would depend on context as to whether this was appropriate.

            Perhaps another way to think of it is for lists where semicolons are needed. I suggest it would barely make sense if we leave a semicolon out of this one: –

            – Other icons include Mary, Mungo, and Midge; Alvin, Simon, and Theodore; and Huey, Duey, and Louie.

            You’d agree the final semicolon must stay, so why not the Oxford commas – what’s the difference? Are they not doing the same job or do we need to start discussing the ‘Oxford semicolon’ now?

            Granted – we do agree, re-writing is always preferable; where possible. But I’d rather see others use the Oxford comma than to leave it out, where including it would have made their work clear yet omitting it out has confused things.

            Besides, I use it to be cantankerous.

          • Nich

            Just as “I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.” can imply that your parents are Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty; “I love my mother, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty.” could still imply that your mother is Lady Gaga.


            Assuming that the sentence itself is written correctly, “Recognizable 70s icons include Batman and Robin, Simon and Garfunkel and Tom and Jerry” is not technically difficult to decipher. The assumption should be if Simon, Garfunkel, and Tom or Garfunkel, Tom and Jerry where groupings then they would have been written as such. A better example of your point in that case would be something like:

            ‘Last night I watched the movies Jack and Jill, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice and Mac and Me.’

            Putting a comma after Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice would help make the pairings more clear, but that’s only because the title of the movie itself is grammatically incorrect. For instance:

            We had fun. playing a concert in the park last night.

            The fact that the band has chosen to make the correct spelling of their name in lowercase and with a period does not itself make the sentence grammatically incorrect, even though someone who is not familiar with fun.’s naming conventions could easily be confused. I’m sure there are thousands of ways to name your band, movie, book, etc that would confound all manner of grammatical conventions.

            Honestly, I’ve never cared much one way or the other for or against the Oxford comma. I’m much more frustrated that we can’t seem to just pick one and “Get on with it!”

          • Weaky Sneasel

            OK thanks, now I’m lost completely. I guess that’s the point though?
            What are your groupings? I’m not familiar with any of them. Is it: –
            ‘Ted & Alice’, and also ‘Mac & me’, and also ‘Bob & Carol’?
            ‘Alice & Mac & Me’, and also ‘Bob & Carol & Ted’?
            ‘Mac & Me’, and also ‘Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice’?

            And is the band called ‘We had fun’ ?
            or is it just called ‘fun’?

            To be honest, all I care about is that I’ve understood what the writer intended me to understand. If not, the writer hasn’t done a good job [written believing your examples are intended for the reader to be confused, to make your point, so not intending it as a dig at you].

            Sometimes, not using the Oxford comma can confuse – as you’ve just shown very well – whereas, using it usually only ever makes things clearer, or at worst, no worse.
            [by the way, I think I changed ‘parents’ to ‘mother’ to show it doesn’t always work].

            Most of the time it’s clear either way so just doesn’t matter – Oxford comma or not.

            But using it seems to irritate those who dislike it for no good reason. And for me, that’s actually a more than good enough reason to use it all the more!

          • Nich

            More answering to make sure I alleviate the confusion than to try and harp on any particular point any more than I already have; the movie titles are all real movies:

            Jack and Jill
            Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice
            Mac and Me

            Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice definitely makes a stronger argument for an Oxford comma making the list easier to read, my point was just that it’s only really helpful because the movie title itself is confusing. If it were titled Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice, then we would upgrade to semicolons and be done with it. And as you said previously, rewriting it to make it less confusing is step one. If we make the list Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Jack and Jill and Mac and Me; then for the most part we’re back to the same argument of the comma making it somewhat more legible but still not being completely necessary. I guess that’s why this debate always seems to go around in circles and doesn’t really change.

            Oh, and that band officially spells its name as


            though plenty of people at least capitalize it in order to enforce that it is a proper noun.

          • Weaky Sneasel

            Another solution is to make use of the ampersand. I don’t know the movie but I’m guessing it could be called ‘Bob & Carrol and Ted & Alice’? Assuming it’s a film about two couples. Tom & Jerry and Batman & Robin etc.

          • Weaky Sneasel

            Ah-ha! I’ve just been writing a sentence where I believe it’s somewhat critical, so I’ll share it: –

            ‘The English guy and the Polish girl are both very clean and tidy, and friendly too’.

            – It’s critical information to link ‘very’ to both ‘clean’ and to ‘tidy’, not to mention highly desirable to retain ‘clean and tidy’ as a compound pair.
            – I don’t necessarily want to link ‘friendly’ to ‘very’ and the comma cleanly and successfully separates them.
            – I want to express ‘friendly’ as an afterthought, not my initial adjective.
            – It would need a more cumbersome expansion or an additional sentence to otherwise express ‘friendly’, and like this expresses exactly what I want to convey both clearly and succinctly, and correctly I believe [Ooh, there it is again].

            I also read this http://theeditorsblog.net/2011, which was quoted above, and although not directly about the Oxford comma, it is the clearest article on commas I’ve read and repeatedly uses an Oxford comma.

          • Nick Harman

            You use guy when in fact we English men are ‘chaps’ if well-bred or ‘blokes’ if not, but she is referred to as a girl. Is she a lot younger than the guy? Should we be concerned and contact the authorities? There are a lot of young Eastern European girls said to be working unwillingly in the sex trade.

            Anyway, why is friendly an afterthought? Does being clean and tidy usually prevent someone being friendly? Why not just say this interesting couple are clean, tidy and friendly? Very clean and tidy sounds like they might have OCD by the way.

            Overall I really don’t think you are giving them much of a reference.

            In any case that Oxford comma makes me want to scoop out both my eyes with a rusty teaspoon.

          • Weaky Sneasel

            This made me chuckle and it’s interesting how you have misinterpreted the context – perhaps mischievously – in a way this particular reader would not have. Let me explain for your amusement too perhaps.

            I used ‘guy’ because I was writing to a French girl for whom I considered ‘bloke’ and ‘chap’, colloquialisms she may not be familiar with, so consciously selected ‘guy’ for her. It will be her first time in England, where she has a posting as a French teacher to help improve her accent.

            I own an HMO and she is a prospective tenant. At 49 years old I consider a 23-year-old a girl. It could be considered patronising perhaps but I felt, using ‘woman’ may have wrongly implied she was around my age. I wanted her to infer the Polish occupant was female, and near to her age. Using ‘girl’, I think achieves this.

            Interestingly, applicants frequently describe themselves – jokingly I presume – as OCD. In this context, it is a recognised way of them telling me they’ll look after my property, but also, they expect this from their potential cohabitants. So yes, she actually claimed to be OCD as a means of gleaning how ‘clean and tidy’ the other tenants may be.

            While it will be important to her that the people she would be sharing with will be clean and tidy, the majority of tenants, including this English guy, tend to stay in their room when at home. So, she’ll not see too much of him and this had already been described to her. It was an afterthought that he is ‘friendly too’, very much secondary to ‘clean and tidy’.

            So, in context, the two are accurately and succinctly, and also flatteringly described [there is is again] as ‘…very clean and tidy, and friendly too’.

            I don’t think I can do away with the Oxford comma here, it’s a good sentence, not in need of rewriting, which doesn’t quite work without it.

            I get how you feel, though, not so much with this one, but with text spellings and spelling reformers etc… And, please be careful with those spoons!

  • Oliver Kress

    fuck the oxford comma

  • Rachael Hare

    I’m unsure if I’m opening myself up to criticism or not, however, I was always taught (early 80’s secondary education) never to use a comma before the word ‘and’. So definitive was this rule, I didn’t realise that there was an alternative, certainly the words ‘Oxford comma’ were never uttered by my teachers.

    • Weaky Sneasel

      Me too, exactly the same! But, I often came across instances where I felt things were unclear and thought a comma was needed, so when I discovered the Oxford comma I realised it seemed to solve the problem. I’ve yet to come across an instance where it makes things worse, it usually makes no difference, and it frequently helps. For me it’s a no-brainer!

  • pennyhammack

    Growing up I was taught to always use the Oxford comma. In college, many years later, my Business Writing teacher said we should never use it and I had to force myself to eliminate it. Now Grammarly wants it back. I personally believe that anything that makes writing more readable should be used be it comma, semi-colon, colon, or exclamation point.

  • Gokul Suresh

    Just curious. Was the Oxford comma commonly used earlier? Or is it a style introduced in the recent years?

  • Francisco Vianna

    In the mentioned example: “Bring me a pencil, eraser and notebook”, the way the phrase is written is unappropriate. One can write: “Bring me pencil, eraser and notebook” (with or withouth the Oxiford comma) or otherwise “Bring me a pencil, an eraser anda a notebook” (the same regarded to Oxiford comma)… Am I wrong?

  • John Luciano

    I have always used the Oxford comma and really most of life thought that was just the correct way to punctuate. Moreover, it makes more logical sense to me personally. I don’t understand why the last two items in a list don’t need a comma. It’s unnatural to me. Unfortunately, I have found, especially nowadays, that I am in the extreme minority. Especially in writings in my profession as well as in news stories online it seems the oxford comma is almost always omitted. I almost feel like I’m going against the rules by using it.

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