The Oxford Comma Image

What is the Oxford comma?

The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is the final comma you write when listing three or more items in a row. You can and should use an Oxford comma with any list of at least three nouns, verbs, or phrases.

For example:

  • I ate scrambled eggs, french toast, and milk.
  • These are my sisters Anna, Jane, and Mary.
  • She has a doll, a ball, and a kite.

Not Using the Oxford Comma

Some writing styles such as the AP style—which newspaper reporters often use—does not require the Oxford comma. Let’s take a look at how the sentences above will look written in AP style:

  • I ate scrambled eggs, french toast and apple juice.
  • These are my sisters, Anna, Jane and Mary.
  • She has a doll, a ball and a kite. 

Why Use Oxford Commas

Unless you are writing for a newspaper or working on an essay for class, using the Oxford comma is entirely up to you. However, removing it may create some confusion. Let’s look at this sentence again:

  • I ate scrambled eggs, french toast and apple juice.

Without the Oxford comma, the sentence could mean that french toast and apple juice refers to a single object. Can you imagine drinking a glass of apple juice with bits of french toast in it? Yuck! Or maybe yum? You decide!

Let’s take a look at another example:

  • I like my grandparents, Slash and Betty White.

While it sounds awesome to have Slash and Betty White as grandparents, we can easily see how removing the Oxford comma can create confusing and funny sentences. What the writer really meant was “I like my grandparents, I like Slash, and I like Betty White” but without the Oxford comma, the sentence means “I like my grandparents, and their names are Slash and Betty White.”

See how a simple comma can make a huge difference in the meaning of a sentence?

On the other hand, people argue that sentences like the one stated above can easily be fixed by simply rearranging the nouns.

For example:

  • I like Slash, Betty White and my grandparents.

Now it makes sense … right?

Please Use the Oxford Comma

I used to think the Oxford comma was unnecessary in most cases, and that it really shouldn’t be used unless necessary. I have since changed my mind after writing for over a decade and working with some really great editors.

I highly recommend you always use the Oxford comma unless you’re instructed not to by your boss or teacher.

Why?

Because it helps you avoid confusion far more often than you might think. When you get in the habit of always using the Oxford comma, it’ll save you an enormous amount of time and mental energy. It’ll also save you from embarrassing mistakes that confuse the heck out of your readers like:

I miss my family, eggs and bacon.

Oxford Comma Meme

Here’s our favorite Oxford comma meme:

oxford comma meme image

To Comma or Not to Comma?

In the end, using the Oxford comma is stylistic, meaning not all style guides require it, so whether you follow it or not is entirely up to you—unless you’re thinking about inviting two rhinoceroses named Washington and Lincoln over for dinner.

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

Want to learn more writing tips? Check out these articles:

The following two tabs change content below.
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.

Latest posts by Tom Corson-Knowles (see all)