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What Is the Oxford Comma (or Serial Comma)?

Updated on April 19, 2023Grammar

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

Please bring me a pencil, eraser, and notebook.

The Oxford comma is the one right after eraser.

The use of the Oxford comma is a matter of style, meaning that some publishing styles stipulate its use while others don’t. In other words, it’s not incorrect to use the Oxford comma or not to use it, but it is advisable to be consistent one way or the other. AP style—based on The Associated Press Stylebook, the style guide that American news organizations generally adhere to—does not use the Oxford comma. The above sentence in AP style would look like this:

Please bring me a pencil, eraser and notebook.

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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

Unless you’re writing 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. However, omitting it can sometimes cause some strange misunderstandings, and even if you’re following a professional or personal style that doesn’t use the Oxford comma, it’s always permissible to use one to avoid these.

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 that 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 subject of debate. Those who oppose its use argue that rephrasing an already unclear sentence can solve the same problems that adding an Oxford comma would.

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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