Oxford Comma: To Use or Not to Use? That is the Question

Strunk&White-CindyFazziPicAs a writer, the AP Stylebook is my bible. I’ve changed jobs, from journalism to P.R. and now marketing, but I continue to follow it—except for its rule against the Oxford comma. I follow Strunk and White’s rule, instead. You would do well to do the same.

“The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White says: “In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.” For example, “red, white, and blue.”

Meanwhile, the AP Stylebook says: “Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series.” For example, “The flag is red, white and blue.”

Why the Oxford Comma is Important

There’s no issue with AP’s example, but the TEDEd video below gave a problematic example following the same rule. What if you received a text message asking you to “bring Bob, a DJ and a clown” to the party? You had no idea Bob is both a DJ and a clown.

In a recent Fox News opinion piece, I found this sentence:

“A similar protest turned violent last week in Southern California—as a horde of illegals and their supporters violently attacked Trump supporters, police and even a horse.”

A smart aleck could argue that Trump supporters consisted of the police and a horse, too. Too bad the horse can’t vote come election time!

The AP Stylebook is primarily for news outlets (newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio stations). Newspapers don’t want to waste space, not even a tiny space for an extra comma. If you’re not writing for a newspaper, there’s no excuse for not using the Oxford comma. Err on the side of caution and use it.

You might be interested in these stories:

Verb, Verbing, Verbification: Turning Nouns into Verbs

Common Mistakes about 10 Common Phrases

Enormity, Enormousness, and 26 Other Commonly Confused Words

MacGyver, Paparazzi, and Other Words Originating from Pop Culture

Affluenza, Hispandering, Swatting, and Other Negative Words from the News

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. Thanks Cindy! Now I know why to use the comma before “and”. It makes total sense.

    Reply
    • Hi Stanalei! So nice to hear from you. I was “forced” to skip the Oxford comma back when I worked for AP, but now I don’t see a reason why I should skip it!

      Reply
  2. I’ve been using the Oxford comma and always worry about too many commas! Commas everywhere. Now I’m glad I do. I’ll stick with it 🙂

    Reply
  3. LONG LIVE THE OXFORD COMMA! Lol, my students know that in my classroom, the O.C. is required – I have lots of silly comics posted to illustrate why 😉

    Reply
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  3. Do We Really Need the Oxford Comma? A Federal Court Says Yes | Cindy Fazzi

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