Oxford comma


“While Adrian was waiting for Julie to get ready, he washed the dishes, turned off the TV, checked his emails, and even had time for a cup of tea.”

The Oxford comma – also known as the serial comma – (the one that ends the list in the sentence above and comes before the conjunction – in this case ‘and’) may be small, but it splits opinion.

As a writer I rarely use it, but that’s my preference. You see the use of the Oxford comma is completely optional. There is no ‘set in stone’ grammatical rule that says you must use it.

Of course, there are occasions where its use is necessary, because without it your sentence can change meaning completely:

  • James went cycling with his mate Bert, a financial analyst, and a heavy rock fan.
  • James went cycling with his mate Bert, a financial analyst and a heavy rock fan

One little comma turns a matey bike ride into small peloton.

Why I don’t use the Oxford comma (unless I have to)

As a copywriter, I have been known to bend the rules of grammar a tad to meet the needs of my clients’ copy, especially when trying for a certain effect.

Effective and powerful copy is conversational; it should reflect every day speech if it is to engage your target audience.

The use of the Oxford comma (or in fact an excessive amount of commas in general) can lead to confusion and overly long sentences that leave your readers scratching their heads.

I find it far better to keep things short.

The only time you will see me use the little blighter is to maintain meaning in a sentence, or if a client’s style guide demands it.

It’s one of those debates that will rage on and on with both camps firmly set in their ways.

What’s your take on it?

Are you pro or anti the Oxford comma?

Leave a comment below and let me know. Who knows, if you have a particularly persuasive argument you might be able to sway me.