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What Is the Oxford Comma (or Serial Comma)?

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.

The 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.

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Unless you’re writing for a news article for a particular publication or drafting an essay for school, whether or not you use the Oxford comma is generally up to you.

Oxford comma examples

  • I like oatmeal, eggs, and fruit salad for breakfast.
  • Erika, Andy, and Isaac live on Maple Avenue.
  • First-year writing skills include prewriting, outlining, editing, and revising.
  • Be sure to buy mulch, seeds, flowers, and fertilizer.
  • Launch in five, four, three, two, one, and blast off!

Oxford comma confusion

However, omitting it can sometimes cause some strange misunderstandings.

I love my parents, my dog and my cat.

Without the Oxford comma, the sentence above could be interpreted as saying you love your parents, and your parents are your dog and your cat. Here’s the same sentence with the Oxford comma:

I love my parents, my dog, and my cat.

For some, the Oxford comma has become a debate. Those who oppose the Oxford comma argue that rephrasing an already unclear sentence can solve the same problems that using the Oxford comma does. 

I love my parents, my dog and my cat.

This sentence could be rewritten as:

I love my dog, my cat and my parents.

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