What’s up with the Oxford comma?
Before we get into the inevitable debate over the usefulness of the Oxford comma, let’s first figure out what it is.
The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is the comma used just before the conjunction (usually “and” or “or”) that precedes the final item in a list of three or more items or people.
The controversy is over whether the Oxford comma is necessary. This blog supports it. Here are some other organizations that also defend its importance:
One reason why The YUNiversity supports the Oxford comma is that it removes confusion and ambiguity from sentences. For instance, there is this famous example that made its rounds on the Interwebs:
Using the Oxford comma, we have four people: JFK, Stalin, and two strippers.
Without the Oxford comma, we can have either four people or two people (JFK and Stalin, who are strippers). Both interpretations are valid.
A debate on whether the Oxford comma is even necessary persists because there are, to be fair, many instances in which the Oxford comma either creates (or doesn’t resolve) ambiguities. For examples of these cases, turn to Wikipedia.
Many newspapers (as seen above) do not support the Oxford comma because—as the theory goes—they have always been in the business of saving as many characters (including “non-essential” punctuations) as possible. After all, unlike websites, printed newspapers are limited in terms of printable space, so every letter, character, and space matters.
- In American English, the Oxford comma is standard in most non-journalistic writing. Therefore, you should use it in your essays for school.
- In British English, the Oxford comma is used much less frequently.
As you decide for yourself whether to endorse or shun the Oxford comma, heed this helpful advice:
That’s good advice. Right, Ezra?