Where Do You Stand On The Oxford Comma?

The case for keeping it.

Thanks to my son, Peter, Vampire Weekend’s song “Oxford Comma” now resides in my iTunes library. I love the song, especially its insistent chorus “Who gives a @#&! about an Oxford comma?” I do, of course.

The Oxford or serial comma precedes a conjunction (“and” or “or”) before the final item in a series of three or more. For example: red, white, and blue or Yeats, Shaw, and Beckett. Some people omit the second comma; others, including me, retain it. (And some people, as Vampire Weekend points out, don’t give a @#&!.)

Why do I? Two reasons:

1. Clarity. The Oxford comma ensures that there is no ambiguity about what you are trying to say. Consider this sentence: Among my heroes are my two sons, James Joyce, and Larry Bird. That's four heroes in all: Peter and Evan, James Joyce, and Larry Bird. But when you remove the Oxford comma, the meaning is no longer clear: Among my heroes are my two sons, James Joyce and Larry Bird. Looks like the writer and basketball legend are now part of my family!

2. Consistency. Since the Oxford comma is essential to avoiding confusion in some instances, I prefer to use it in all instances. In writing, consistent punctuation conveys command of the language and craft. Haphazard use of the Oxford comma will make your writing look sloppy.

Language, like us, is constantly evolving, so it is inevitable that conventions will change. However, I hold fast to the tradition of the Oxford comma — not because it’s old school, but because it contributes to clear communication.

Where do you stand in the Oxford comma debate?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mike Bottaro January 27, 2012 at 11:26 AM
For legal writing, expert Bryan A. Garner generally dislikes the use of commas. He preaches avoiding commas wherever possible.
John Walsh January 27, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Thanks for responding, Andrew. I've enjoyed your posts, especially the recent one about the Giants. In addition to learning about the Oxford comma in your Hanaford days, you've developed excellent skills as a writer. I look forward to your future posts. Here's a good quote from another Irish writer, Oscar Wilde: "I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."
John Walsh January 27, 2012 at 01:30 PM
I suspect the dislike of commas in legal writing stems from the fact that there is often a lot of language to work through and the commas slow the reader down. Besides, the awards being sought are usually financial, not literary! Thanks for reading the post, Mike. Look forward to yours.
Andrew Miner January 28, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Spent a little time researching and reading Joyce and Wilde. Thanks for introducing me to these great Irish writers, Mr. Walsh.
mortalkonlaw March 20, 2013 at 04:36 PM
Wrong! He's all for the Oxford comma.


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