The Oxford Comma and Why You Should Use It!

There’s a chance that some of you have been using the Oxford comma for quite some time but didn’t even realize it! This grammar tool has big fans (I’m one of those fans!) and others who think it is just a superfluous mark on the page. At the end of the day, use of the Oxford comma comes down to which editing style you are using or personal preference.

What is the Oxford comma?

The Oxford comma—also called the serial comma—is the last comma used in a list. For example:

The wedding photographer made sure she had her timeline, camera equipment, and a water bottle.

The Oxford comma is the bolded comma right after “camera equipment.”

Like I mentioned earlier, determining if you need to use the Oxford comma is based on stylistic rules, which means that style guides require use of the comma and others don’t.

Some common style guides and who uses them are as follows:

Associated Press (AP) Stylebook—used by newspaper reporters
Modern Language Associate (MLA) Manual—used by students of humanities (history, literature, art, etc.)
The Chicago Manual of Style—used by the writing and publishing industry
American Psychological Association (APA) Style—used for scientific writing

These are a just a few style guides that you may have heard of. There are many more! As a former writing/English major, I primarily used the MLA style guide while in school. However, during my career in the entertainment industry doing writing, we adhered to the Chicago style guide.

Depending on what industry you are in, there may be different rules for use of the Oxford comma, but for the wedding industry, I would recommend use use the Chicago style, which does require the comma.

The AP Style, however, does not require the use of the Oxford comma. The sentence from earlier would be like this if written in AP style:

The wedding photographer made sure she had her timeline, camera equipment and a water bottle.

In this case, the use of the Oxford comma would not make a big difference in changing the meaning of the sentence. However, omitting the Oxford comma can sometimes cause some funny misunderstandings. For example:
The bride wanted a picture with her parents, Aunt Jill and Uncle Jack.

Without the Oxford comma, the sentence above could be interpreted as stating that the bride was raised by her Aunt Jill and Uncle Joe, whom she refers to as her parents. Here’s the same sentence with the Oxford comma:

The bride wanted a picture with her parents, Aunt Jill, and Uncle Jack.

Do you see how adding the comma also adds come clarity to the meaning of the sentence?

Style guides that oppose the use of the Oxford comma argue that rephrasing the unclear sentence can solve some of the confusion. For example:

The bride wanted a picture with Aunt Jill, Uncle Jack and her parents.

In my opinion, it is easier to get into the use of using the Oxford comma so that you don’t have to constantly be re-writing your work during editing. Now that you know a little more about the Oxford comma, what is your opinion? Should we always use it or is it just an extra mark that we don’t need clogging up the page? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!


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