Authors Answer 132 – The Oxford Comma

What is the Oxford comma? I found this definition:

a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, before ‘and’ or ‘or’ (e.g. an Italian painter, sculptor, and architect ).

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But why is it such a controversial topic? Is it important to use the Oxford comma? Is it even needed? In many cases, it’s absolutely required to avoid confusion. It’s not always needed in every list, but should we be using it? We talk about that this week.

Question 132 – Do you use the Oxford comma? Why or why not? Give your own example where you would need to use the Oxford comma.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I do use the Oxford comma, and I personally think everyone should. For one thing, we really should have a set rule so that it stops being such a constant debate. For another, there are just too many sentences that can be turned into nonsense if you neglect to use the Oxford comma. For instance, “Let me introduce you to my boyfriend, my doctor and a rock star” describes one guy with an impressive resume, whereas, “Let me introduce you to my boyfriend, my doctor, and a rock star,” describes an introduction to three separate people.

Gregory S. Close

I think I prefer the Oxford comma.  It just makes sense to me.  There is and should be a difference between: “My heroes are my parents, Aragorn and Arwen. “ and  “My heroes are my parents, Aragorn, and Arwen.”  Unless, you know, your parents are actually Aragorn and Arwen, which is theoretically possible, I guess.

D. T. Nova

I use it most of the time. I would avoid it in the rare situation where it would increase ambiguity rather than decrease it.
“Universal Studios has rides featuring the Men in Black, Jimmy Fallon and Harry Potter.”

Eric Wood

I do use the Oxford Comma. I was taught that it was required and old habits die hard. “I have to thank my parents, Einstein and Beyonce.” It should read, “I have to thank my parents, Einstein, and Beyonce.” My parents are NOT Einstein and Beyonce and that’s how it reads without that Oxford.

Paul B. Spence

Yes, yes I do. I use it because it is the only way to write clearly and be understood. Those who do not use it will be misunderstood, misread, and the subject of schadenfreude. Note the use in the previous sentence.

Jean Davis

I do prefer the Oxford comma, however, I seem to find myself not automatically using it as often as I used to. There are so many good meme examples of why the comma is important, I think I’ll leave it at use the comma anywhere you don’t want to completely change the meaning of your sentence, like eating grandma or turning Hitler and Stalin into strippers.

H. Anthe Davis

I use it where necessary for the sense of the sentence, but I don’t use it religiously.  I actually find the typical construction pretty crude/boring; if I’m going to talk about a collection of things, it’s either going to be two for swiftness or a larger handful for variety.  Three drags on just a little too long for the first and isn’t complex enough for the second.  I wish I could search my documents for Oxford commas to give real examples, but I would use them for listing something that could be skimmed over and become confusing without a comma — say ‘She gathered red beets, greens, and white beans’ so that someone reading quickly wouldn’t think it was ‘she gathered red beets, green and white beans’.  The Oxford comma definitely has its use as a pause/break-up mechanism, but unless there’s a clarity-related reason for it, I don’t usually bother.

Elizabeth Rhodes

Yes, I use it whenever necessary. I have been told by some beta readers that it’s unnecessary, but I feel it’s a small gesture to make the writing as clear as possible. My favorite example to illustrate this is “We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin” vs “We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.”

Jay Dee Archer

I always use it. I’m in a habit to insert that comma before the “and” to avoid confusion. It makes it easier, really. If I’m always checking my list to see if there would be any confusion, it takes more time. The Oxford comma makes lists clearer.

When I was teaching English, I made up a few examples of where the Oxford comma was required and how it changed the meaning if I excluded it. I wish I could remember some of the sentences. But here’s one I thought of involving food: “For lunch, I had my favourite pie, calamari and coffee.” Sounds disgusting. Calamari and coffee pie? Or how about this one: “I enjoy taxidermy, animals and children.” Basically, I said that I enjoy doing taxidermy on both animals and children. Add the Oxford comma, then it becomes clear.

How about you?

Join the debate! Do you use the Oxford comma? What are your favourite examples where the Oxford comma would be required? Let us know in the comments section below.

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6 thoughts on “Authors Answer 132 – The Oxford Comma”

  1. The most common reason NOT to use the Oxford comma seems to be “It isn’t necessary,” which makes me wonder why those who don’t use it are so vehemently against it. If it’s merely “not necessary,” what harm does it do? Does it ever make a sentence LESS clear than leaving it out would?

    (It’s a good thing this week’s question included a definition of the Oxford comma, because I’ve noticed a lot of people online assuming ALL commas are Oxford commas and therefor “not necessary.” *rolls eyes*)

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