The Oxford Comma Debate

Certain people feel so strongly about Oxford commas they proudly sport t-shirts declaring they’re on “Team Oxford Comma.” (Guilty as charged!)

Yes, the debate is ongoing – and sometimes contentious – to use or not use that penultimate comma in a series.

First the definition: an Oxford comma is placed “between the final items in a list, often preceding the word ‘and’ or ‘or’ such as the final comma in the list newspapers, magazines, and books” – my underline to clearly point that beautiful little gem. It is also called the Harvard comma or a serial comma.

For total transparency and if you haven’t already guessed, I’m squarely on the “yes” side of the debate. I always use an Oxford comma. I like a good, solid, black, and white rule and think this is one with such clarity that I can take it to the bank.

But I want to be fair, so I did a quick poll of some of our Blue Wagoneers. Here’s briefly how they weighed in:

Talia Hamm:, Team Oxford, says:

While some may say the Oxford comma is an unnecessary addition in writing, I think this disregards the subtle but important role it plays and it remains a permanent fixture in my grammar. The Oxford comma provides clarity when listing items in a sentence and ensures the reader knows that each item stands alone. Oxford commas are a simple addition with a big impact!

Melana Hydrick, Team Oxford, says:

I am unashamed to admit that I am a huge fan of the Oxford comma. I am a rule follower and 100% go with AP style when I am writing for work, and thus omit it even though my mind has to think about doing so.

Having minored in English in college, I just can’t let the serial comma go completely. I freely use it when sending personal emails or messages. My high school daughter has, in fact, called me out for not using it before, which is ironic given her generation’s casual relationship with grammar and what I can only imagine is some unspoken rule that capitalization is too weird or formal to be used in text messages.

Suffice it to say that if the AP gods ever reverse the decision on use of the Oxford comma, I will celebrate.

Becky Peterson, a fence sitter, says:

If the series is more complex or to further clarify meaning, I’m ok with using an Oxford comma. Take this example with no Oxford comma: I love my daughter, my sister and my best friend. This could be inferred that my daughter is also my sister (what?) and best friend (could be).

However, using Oxford comma in “I love my daughter, my sister, and my best friend” is necessary to clearly show that I have a loving relationship with my daughter, my sister, AND my best friend.

But for a basic set of three items (“I picked tulips, daffodils and lilacs”) I opt for no comma. I feel it’s just more direct with fewer characters.

Ami Neiberger, mostly Team Oxford, says:

I’m generally on Team Oxford Comma.

An Oxford comma naturally indicates one should take a pause when reading copy aloud. With podcasting and audio books, copy is read aloud frequently. However, I also try to follow AP style when writing news releases, which rejects Oxford commas unless they are used in lists or in situations with complex phrasing.

How about you? Where do you land on this discussion of my beautiful little Oxford comma? We’d love to hear your thoughts.