The “serial comma,” also known as the “Oxford comma,” is a hotly debated grammar tool that has divided the grammar and writing world for years. For those of you who don’t know what the Oxford comma is, it’s an optional comma before the word ‘and’ or ‘or’ at the end of a list.
For example, here is a sentence using the Oxford comma:
I love going on long walks with my dogs, Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian.
And here is that same sentence without the Oxford comma:
I love going on long walks with my dogs, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.
At first glance, there may not be a noticeable difference in the meaning of those sentences. But read them again—carefully this time. The first sentence using the Oxford comma implies that I like to go on long walks with my dogs, Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian, who are all separate entities. Now, I might be an insane person if I actually enjoyed going on long walks with Kanye and Kim, but grammatically, this sentence makes sense. On the other hand, the second sentence implies that I like going on long walks with my dogs, whose names are Kanye West and Kim Kardashian (implying that I’m even more of an insane person for naming my poor dogs after Kanye and Kim). See where the confusion lies?
I’m personally a fan and utilizer of the Oxford comma, because I believe that omitting it from sentences where a list is involved often causes grammatical confusion. With that said, there are instances where I would find it grammatically acceptable to not use the Oxford comma. For example, in the Kanye and Kim sentences used above, if I actually did like going on long walks with my dogs whose names are actually Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, then omitting the Oxford comma would be grammatically correct and intelligible. But the inherent issue that I have when it comes to the use of the Oxford comma is that most publications either use it or they don’t. There’s really no mixed use of it that I’m aware of, which is strange given the different meanings it can imply when either used or omitted.
A huge reason for this is that the all mighty Associated Press Stylebook that a majority of professional publications abide by doesn’t recognize the use of the Oxford comma. Even following AP’s yearly updates of the stylebook, they’ve stated via their Twitter account that they generally don’t use the Oxford comma in a simple series.
This is understandable. Sentences such as “the U.S. flag is red, white and blue” make complete sense without an Oxford comma. But as our Kanye and Kim example shows, the absolute refusal to use the Oxford comma just seems plain stubborn.
To help you understand the Oxford comma and it’s uses, check out the interesting Oxford comma infographic via The Daily Infographic below.
What’s interesting to note is that other style guidebooks like the Modern Language Association (MLA), the America Psychological Association (APA), and the American Medical Association (AMA) all use the Oxford comma.
A favorite example of mine demonstrating why I believe the Oxford comma should be used in all forms of writing is depicted in this hilarious illustration below involving JFK, Joseph Stalin, and strippers. Credit goes to Jeff Bishop for this one:
Written by Luke Severn
Luke is a marketing coordinator at Kaufer DMC. He loves the Arctic Monkeys, David Fincher movies, and the Portland Trail Blazers.