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Why You Need to be Using the Oxford Comma

Most of the fun of writing is using your words to tell a story. They course across the page, delighting in the joys of Maureen finally finding her Henry, shuddering as Ingrid uncovers her third dead body of the day, or mourning with Carlos for his lost mother. But I’m not here to talk about words. I’m here to sing the praises of punctuation; specifically, the Oxford comma.

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The Oxford Comma

What Is an Oxford Comma?

Most people I’ve met have no idea what the Oxford comma is, but it’s probably something that you have used in the past. What is it? It’s a punctuation mark so fantastic that a hipster band wrote a song about it.

Let’s observe the Oxford comma in its natural habitat:

While Sean was waiting for Kyle to pick up Chinese for dinner, he scraped the paint off the bathroom door frame, alphabetized his books by main character’s first name, and successfully startled the neighbor’s boxer twice.

The last comma in that sentence is an Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma or the Harvard comma. Its name is always pretentious, and its purpose is always the same: it comes before the conjunction (in this case, “and”) in a list.

Is the Oxford Comma Required?

The Oxford comma is completely optional.

It’s far more common in non-journalistic prose, and fairly standard in the US, but it’s not often used in the UK, Australia, or South Africa.

Without it, however, meanings of sentences can change completely. For example:

Amanda found herself in the Winnebago with her ex-boyfriend, an herbalist and a pet detective.

Amanda found herself in the Winnebago with her ex-boyfriend, an herbalist, and a pet detective.

One comma makes the difference between an awkward road trip with two people and a potentially hilarious road trip with four people. Make sure you’re punctuating the story you want people to read.

NOTE: Not a fan of the Oxford comma? Check out our dissenting opinion, Why the Oxford Comma is Pretentious.

Need more grammar help? After you master the Oxford comma in the practice section below, check out our tutorial Grammar 101. You too can write pop songs about Grammar terms!

PRACTICE

Write for seven minutes using the following sentence prompt as a starter. Then take another seven minutes, add an Oxford comma to the prompt, and write again. See how your story changes.

Prompt: Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his sister and a police officer.

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About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

  • Practice part 1:

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie.

    “You really going to do this? We’re family. You’re my sister.”

    “I don’t have a choice. It’s my job.” She held his back, pushed him against the unmarked crown vic, cuffed him.

    “My sister…” he said. “My own sister.” He muttered to himself the whole drive. The thoughts of his childhood, they played underneath the dusty pine trees and tried to rub the sap off each other’s hands with spit, they rode bikes, she always won, they held hands. This was the end. Her holding his hands back to put the cuffs on.

    “How could you do this to me?” he said. “How could you do this… TO ME.” He banged his head on the screen. He yelled until the car was filled with only banging and yelling.

    “You’re blaming this on me?” she shouted over. “Who bought the coke, Jeremy? Who got caught? Don’t you dare blame your shitty life on me.”

    Practice Part 2:

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie and his sister. In the street, the police officer was harassing some coke head. They were downtown.

    “I have an announcement,” he said. “I didn’t want to do this here, but I guess the ghetto is as good a place as any.” He got down on one knee. With one hand he reached into his pocket. With his other, he reached out for Leslie’s hand.

    “Leslie, will you marry me?”

    • Was thinking exactly the same thing as your part 1 practice. ha ha.

  • Anonymous

    Practice part 1:

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie.

    “You really going to do this? We’re family. You’re my sister.”

    “I don’t have a choice. It’s my job.” She held his back, pushed him against the unmarked crown vic, cuffed him.

    “My sister…” he said. “My own sister.” He muttered to himself the whole drive. The thoughts of his childhood, they played underneath the dusty pine trees and tried to rub the sap off each other’s hands with spit, they rode bikes, she always won, they held hands. This was the end. Her holding his hands back to put the cuffs on.

    “How could you do this to me?” he said. “How could you do this… TO ME.” He banged his head on the screen. He yelled until the car was filled with only banging and yelling.

    “You’re blaming this on me?” she shouted over. “Who bought the coke, Jeremy? Who got caught? Don’t you dare blame your shitty life on me.”

    Practice Part 2:

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie and his sister. In the street, the police officer was harassing some coke head. They were downtown.

    “I have an announcement,” he said. “I didn’t want to do this here, but I guess the ghetto is as good a place as any.” He got down on one knee. With one hand he reached into his pocket. With his other, he reached out for Leslie’s hand.

    “Leslie, will you marry me?”

    • Was thinking exactly the same thing as your part 1 practice. ha ha.

  • Nicole Marett

    Oh Liz. I love you, but I do not love the Oxford Comma. Yep, I said it…

    • Haha blasphemy! Oxford Commas are the hipster thing to do.

    • epbure

      Nicole. Did you not see the picture emphasizing the importance of proper comma placement? It’s more than a hipster thing to do. It’s the humane thing to do.

  • Nicole Marett

    Oh Liz. I love you, but I do not love the Oxford Comma. Yep, I said it…

    • Haha blasphemy! Oxford Commas are the hipster thing to do.

    • Liz

      Nicole. Did you not see the picture emphasizing the importance of proper comma placement? It’s more than a hipster thing to do. It’s the humane thing to do.

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  • What if Grandpa is delicious?

    • Impossible. Old people are all chewy and tough.

      • but their bones are brittle.

        • Where do you think toothpicks come from? Trees!?

          • Doink

            Question mark should precede the exclamtion point. For example,”You sold my records?!”.

          • But I was more sarcastic than confused! Metaphorical punctuation. Any more rhetorical questions or comments?

        • LilianGardner

          Ha! Ha! You need not eat the bones. Your doggie might like them.

          • Mooser42001

            One naturally saves the bones for Henry Jones, cause Henry don’t eat no meat. Everybody knows that.

      • Random Person

        That is why you marinate them for 24 hours first.

        Unless you advocate eating babies instead.

        • Katina Vaselopulos

          Talking from experience…
          No need to marinate old people, if they are well seasoned by life!
          Then, they are tender and sweet. Definitely savory!!!! 🙂

          • Mooser42001

            You should go to college and study anthropophagy if you want to cook your own grandpa.

      • Peter J. Kraus

        I BEG, to differ.

      • Sean Pitman

        Depends ,That’s what most of the one’s I have had tasted like…;)

  • What if Grandpa is delicious?

    • Impossible. Old people are all chewy and tough.

      • but their bones are brittle.

      • Random Person

        That is why you marinate them for 24 hours first.

        Unless you advocate eating babies instead.

  • Lynette Hammond

    It’s funny that this article actually drew my attention to the always present ‘an’ or ‘a’ before the letter H. As I always pronounce the H in herb ( I am in the UK) the ‘an’ always looks wrong to me, even though I know it is correct. Anyone else find this?

    • Brendan

      Lynette, because you pronounce the H in herb, you should be writing or saying “a herbalist”…Either are correct, depending on how you pronounce the word.

    • Osiris

      Lynette, I don’t know if you’re still going to read this but I’ll clear things out for you. We’re usually taught that if a word starts with a vowel, we use “an”; and if it starts with a consonant, we use “a”. This is true but not entirely. What we’re supposed to be taught is that if a word starts with a vowel SOUND, we use “an”; and if a word starts with a consonant SOUND, we use “a”. It’s not really all about what letter is begins.

      Here are some examples:

      a university (correct)
      an university (incorrect)

      If we follow the “letter” rule then ‘an university’ should be correct but it is not. This is because the basis for the use of a/an is on the first sound of the word and not the letter. The word “university” starts with a “y” sound which is a consonant sound so the article ‘a’ is the correct one to use.

      a umbrella (incorrect)
      an umbrella (correct)

      Here, the word “umbrella” starts with a “uh” sound which is a vowel sound. Therefore, using ‘an’ is correct.

      As with your situation regarding the “a/an herbalist”, either is correct depending on the accent. In the standard American accent, “an herbalist” is correct since the word “herbalist” begins with an “uh” sound which is a vowel sound. In the British accent, the word “herbalist” is usually pronounced with the “h” sound in the beginning which is a consonant sound so “a herbalist” would be correct.

      I hope I’ve cleared things out for you.

  • Lynette Hammond

    It’s funny that this article actually drew my attention to the always present ‘an’ or ‘a’ before the letter H. As I always pronounce the H in herb ( I am in the UK) the ‘an’ always looks wrong to me, even though I know it is correct. Anyone else find this?

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  • I just completed a six week on-line course on this little punctuation mark. Who knew there were so many rules to using a comma? The instructor did not allow the serial comma to be optional during the class, and it was a very hard habit to break. It never dawned on me how not using it could change the meaning of a sentence.

    • Six weeks on the comma?! My my that would be an interesting class.

      • Mooser42001

        What you need, of course, is a commastomy bag.

  • I just completed a six week on-line course on this little punctuation mark. Who knew there were so many rules to using a comma? The instructor did not allow the serial comma to be optional during the class, and it was a very hard habit to break. It never dawned on me how not using it could change the meaning of a sentence.

    • Six weeks on the comma?! My my that would be an interesting class.

  • Guest

    I am an advocate of the serial comma, but I not sure that it resolves all ambiguity when dealing with lists.

    For example, in the last list, with “Amanda, her ex-boyfriend, an herbalist, and a pet detective,” you say that the comma shows that there are four people in the RV.

    Is this true? Couldn’t “herbalist” also be an appositive, referring to the ex-boyfriend?

    I guess if you really wanted to be clear that it was an appositive, you could use parentheses: “Amanda, her ex-boyfriend (an herbalist), and a pet detective.”

    Can somebody help me out?

    • Good question, guest. Technically, I believe if you were going to use appositives in a list, you would use semi-colons. An alternative way to do it would be to say, “Amanda, her ex-boyfriend, who was an herbalist, and a pet detective.” Which would be clearer, but you should still, technically, use semi-colons or, as you say, parentheses.

    • That’s why commas and writing are so confusing. You don’t know what people mean unless you completely rearrange the sentence, or write a bunch of simple sentences… which are lame.. 😛

      • Giovanna X

        Indeed.

        Amanda found herself in the Winnebago with her ex-boyfriend, an herbalist and a pet detective.

        Amanda found herself in the Winnebago with her ex-boyfriend, an herbalist, and a pet detective.

        In the first sentence, there are two people, namely, Amanda and her ex-boyfriend, who is both an herbalist (yes, “an,” for the reasons explained by Joe Bunting above and Osiris below) and a pet detective.

        In the second sentence, there are four people — or possibly only three. It’s still ambiguous even with the Oxford comma, in that her ex-boyfriend may or may not be the herbalist, but the pet detective is clearly another person.

        That said, I’m a fan, and regular user, of the Oxford comma, and regard the omission thereof to be bad form tending to ambiguity far more often than the use of the Oxford comma will do.

  • Guest

    I am an advocate of the serial comma, but I not sure that it resolves all ambiguity when dealing with lists.

    For example, in the last list, with “Amanda, her ex-boyfriend, an herbalist, and a pet detective,” you say that the comma shows that there are four people in the RV.

    Is this true? Couldn’t “herbalist” also be an appositive, referring to the ex-boyfriend?

    I guess if you really wanted to be clear that it was an appositive, you could use parentheses: “Amanda, her ex-boyfriend (an herbalist), and a pet detective.”

    Can somebody help me out?

    • Good question, guest. Technically, I believe if you were going to use appositives in a list, you would use semi-colons. An alternative way to do it would be to say, “Amanda, her ex-boyfriend, who was an herbalist, and a pet detective.” Which would be clearer, but you should still, technically, use semi-colons or, as you say, parentheses.

    • That’s why commas and writing are so confusing. You don’t know what people mean unless you completely rearrange the sentence, or write a bunch of simple sentences… which are lame.. 😛

  • start of thingy:
    Luke turned to face Janna, his sister and a police officer.
    “What do you think about this?” he asked.
    Her thoughtful expression didn’t break when his question broke through the air. He wasn’t sure how to feel about her silence.
    “Well,” she began slowly, as if debating what to tell her brother and what to leave out, “it’s complicated.”
    “Yes….” Luke said, knowing the difficulty of the problem completely.
    “And… I couldn’t tell you for sure…”
    “Oh, you can’t?” Luke said, unable to keep the disappointing out of his voice.
    “Well, what did you expect?” she cried, her eyes accusing, and her mouth in a straight line. “It’s not like I’m an expert or anything.”
    “Yeah, you are,” Luke said.
    Janna snorted. “I’m not falling for any of your tricks. Anyway, there’s not enough evidence here!” she said, pointing at the scattered papers on the round wooden table.
    “I have a video recording–tons, actually,” Luke exclaimed, making a move to go to his laptop.
    Janna held out a hand. “Calm! Luke, why is this so important to you?”
    “Huh?” Luke raised his eyebrows.
    “This boy–he’s important to you, isn’t he?”
    Luke shrugged.
    ***
    I’m past 7 minutes and I didn’t feel like writing more….I don’t really know what’s going on with the boy, anyway. Also this wasnt really much of a comma exercise… Whatever. I also took the creative liberty to change their names. I just wanted the boy to have an L name and the girl to have a J name. ^_^

  • start of thingy:
    Luke turned to face Janna, his sister and a police officer.
    “What do you think about this?” he asked.
    Her thoughtful expression didn’t break when his question broke through the air. He wasn’t sure how to feel about her silence.
    “Well,” she began slowly, as if debating what to tell her brother and what to leave out, “it’s complicated.”
    “Yes….” Luke said, knowing the difficulty of the problem completely.
    “And… I couldn’t tell you for sure…”
    “Oh, you can’t?” Luke said, unable to keep the disappointing out of his voice.
    “Well, what did you expect?” she cried, her eyes accusing, and her mouth in a straight line. “It’s not like I’m an expert or anything.”
    “Yeah, you are,” Luke said.
    Janna snorted. “I’m not falling for any of your tricks. Anyway, there’s not enough evidence here!” she said, pointing at the scattered papers on the round wooden table.
    “I have a video recording–tons, actually,” Luke exclaimed, making a move to go to his laptop.
    Janna held out a hand. “Calm! Luke, why is this so important to you?”
    “Huh?” Luke raised his eyebrows.
    “This boy–he’s important to you, isn’t he?”
    Luke shrugged.
    ***
    I’m past 7 minutes and I didn’t feel like writing more….I don’t really know what’s going on with the boy, anyway. Also this wasnt really much of a comma exercise… Whatever. I also took the creative liberty to change their names. I just wanted the boy to have an L name and the girl to have a J name. ^_^

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  • liz

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his
    sister and a police officer.

    “I always knew you’d end up a cop.”
    He took her in, slowly moving his eyes from hers down her uniform,
    pausing at the gun belt and finally back to rest in the
    I-triple-dog-dare -you -to -tell stare he gave her as a kid.

    “Yeah. And I always had you pegged
    for a criminal, but I didn’t think you were stupid enough to get
    involved in something this big.” Leslie shook her head. There was
    enough Marijuana in that airplane hanger to put her little brother
    away for a very long time. She was the first officer on the scene
    but she knew her partner was not far behind.

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his
    sister, and a police officer.

    “Excuse me sir, but my sister and me
    had nothing to do with this. It was all Leslie’s fault. She’s the
    one that took the bike outta that guy’s garage. Besides, the brakes
    didn’t work so good.” Jeremy kicked the tires of the mangled steel
    frame that until it was five-fingered a few hours ago, belonged to
    the rich kid a few blocks over.”

    “But you rode the bike didn’t you?
    And you wrecked it didn’t you? That doesn’t sound like someone who’s
    innocent to me.” The policeman stared down at the six year-old boy
    who had just gotten caught for the first time. He knew he had to
    make a lasting impression on this kid or he’d be arresting him for
    car theft in another six years.

    “Sorry we’re going to have to take
    all you kids in and your parents will have to meet you at the jail.”
    He opened the door to the patrol car and the three joy-riders slid
    into the backseat.

    Jeremy took his sister’s hand. “Don’t
    worry kid; I’ll take all the blame.”
    Leave a message…

    • Seems that Jeremy was looking at his sister in less that familiar way. Incest, anyone.

      • Angel

        ugh…no.

    • Angel

      wait..so are there 3 people in this scene?

  • liz

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his
    sister and a police officer.

    “I always knew you’d end up a cop.”
    He took her in, slowly moving his eyes from hers down her uniform,
    pausing at the gun belt and finally back to rest in the
    I-triple-dog-dare -you -to -tell stare he gave her as a kid.

    “Yeah. And I always had you pegged
    for a criminal, but I didn’t think you were stupid enough to get
    involved in something this big.” Leslie shook her head. There was
    enough Marijuana in that airplane hanger to put her little brother
    away for a very long time. She was the first officer on the scene
    but she knew her partner was not far behind.

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his
    sister, and a police officer.

    “Excuse me sir, but my sister and me
    had nothing to do with this. It was all Leslie’s fault. She’s the
    one that took the bike outta that guy’s garage. Besides, the brakes
    didn’t work so good.” Jeremy kicked the tires of the mangled steel
    frame that until it was five-fingered a few hours ago, belonged to
    the rich kid a few blocks over.”

    “But you rode the bike didn’t you?
    And you wrecked it didn’t you? That doesn’t sound like someone who’s
    innocent to me.” The policeman stared down at the six year-old boy
    who had just gotten caught for the first time. He knew he had to
    make a lasting impression on this kid or he’d be arresting him for
    car theft in another six years.

    “Sorry we’re going to have to take
    all you kids in and your parents will have to meet you at the jail.”
    He opened the door to the patrol car and the three joy-riders slid
    into the backseat.

    Jeremy took his sister’s hand. “Don’t
    worry kid; I’ll take all the blame.”
    Leave a message…

  • Chris

    Prompt: Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his sister and a police officer.

    Jeremy didn’t know what to say. Shame was squeezing his lower body, forcing blood to rush to his face.
    “Leslie, please forgive me.”
    “Jeremy, this is the third time you shit on a dog,” said the police officer who was also Jeremy’s sister.
    The handcuffs chuckled as Jeremy turned to look at the dog.
    “Leslie, I’m sorry. Please don’t tell mom. She would be-”
    “Too late, Jeremy. The deed has been done.”

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  • joanna

    is there a comma when writing ‘Thanks, Elizabeth’ or is it ‘Thanks Elizabeth’ ?

  • AB

    1. Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his sister and a police
    officer. “Enough!” he shouted. “Just because you’re my sister and a cop, you
    think you can run my life! Well, I’ve had enough. I want to live my life
    without you hanging over me all the time, telling me what to do. And no more
    having your cop buddies do undercover surveillance on me! I’m leaving this town
    and you’d better not try to stop me.” He stooped long enough to grab the camo
    backpack from the cluttered floor and turned toward the door.

    Leslie reached toward him, but he shoved past her.

    “It’s not that I don’t appreciate what you’ve done for me,
    Sis,” he said a little more calmly but still with and edge to his voice. “You
    took me in after mom died and I don’t know where else I could have gone. But it’s
    time for me to live my own life now.”

    2. Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his sister, and a police
    officer. Leslie and the cop each held one of his sister’s arms, and her hands
    were cuffed in front of her waist. Tears streaked her face and blood streaked
    her clothing.

    “Les?” he questioned, staring in shock at his friend. “Les,
    what gives? What are you doing to my sister?”

    “Sorry, bro, she is under arrest,” Les replied somewhat
    apologetically. “Attempted murder. I know your brother-in-law was a mean SOB,
    but when you shoot an unarmed man in his bed, the law has to step in, no matter
    how much provocation there was. We’ll get it all sorted out eventually, but we
    have to take her in.” He and the police officer moved toward the door.

  • AB

    By the way, is there any way to stop the spam on this page?

    • Thanks for mentioning that AB. I think I got them all. I hope they don’t come back, but it you see any, feel free to mark them as spam! Appreciate it!

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  • Andrew

    “… an herbalist…” That is incorrect. It should be: “..a herbalist…”. Because the sound produced by the letter ‘h’ – as heard in the words; ‘house’, ‘home’ and ‘hope’ – doesn’t permit an ‘an’ before it.

    • Gnip Gnop

      We must be pronouncing herbalist different. I do not use the letter ‘h’ in my pronunciation–making ‘an’ the preferred article.

    • You must be from the UK (or at least not from the US). In the US we pronounce herbalist “urb-uhl-ist” not “her-buhl-ist.” Thus, the need from the article “an.” Thanks for pointing that out though!

      • Gary G Little

        If you’re from Brooklyn it’s hoibalist. If you’re from west Texas it’s just weeds.

      • LilianGardner

        Quite right, Joe. I use U.K. English and put ‘a’ herbalist. Thanks for enlightening us on the American usage of this article.

    • Charlotte Hyatt

      That must be someone as old as I am because we were taught the ‘h’ in herbalist, is silent.

  • Gary G Little

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his sister, and police officer Mulligan.

    “See? Now you done it,” Leslie accused. “I tol’ ya ya’d bust something.”

    Jeremy, tearing up, looked at Officer Mulligan and wailed, as pitifully as any six year old can wail when faced with the doom and gloom of having gotten caught, but not knowing what he got caught doing.

    “Hey now,” Officer Mulligan said soothingly. “Leslie is wrong. I’m not here because you broke anything.” A huge man, over six feet and close to 250 pounds, Al Mulligan squatted down infront of Jeremy to not present such an opposing figure. Reaching into the open door of his patrol car he grabbed for something and came back with a squirming bundle of white with spots of tan and black.

    “Mutt,” Jeremy squalled, tears now turning to joy. “You found Mutt.” Mutt had now jumped into Jeremy’s arms and had proceded to wash away all those tears that had been there just seconds ago.

    “Yes I did. He was running around the play ground looking for you. As soon as I saw him, I called him, and he came running just like you taught him.”

    Crisis averted, Al Mulligan saw the kids on their way home and turned back to his patrol car. As he turned he saw Jeremy turn to face Leslie and stick his tongue out at his older sister.

    • LilianGardner

      Giving the police officer a name makes a difference, and one knows where to put in the comma.

  • Thank you for saving Grandpa from being eaten, Liz! I thoroughly enjoyed your post, as well as Joe’s rebuttal. Both made me chuckle.
    Me and the Oxford Comma? Sometimes, I use it and sometimes I don’t. 😉

  • Christine

    It’s important for writers to learn about adjectives, adverbs and punctuation. Otherwise we are apt to aggravate editors, readers and general numbskulls.

    Oh, dear. Lest you misunderstand my meaning, I should reword that last sentence. Otherwise we are apt to aggravate editors, both readers, and general numbskulls. Hope that makes it clearer?

  • Matt O’Berski

    Leslie had long been dreaming of her days on the force:
    chasing bad guys in sweet cars and openly wielding awesome weapons like hand
    grenades and battle rockets. Yeah, the police brigade would totally be worth
    the year and a half extra school. Little did she know that they save the cars,
    grenades, and rockets for people who prove themselves worthy through their
    initiation: being a lifeguard at a 55+ community pool.

    Sure it wasn’t the life Leslie had always dreamed of, but it
    was an investment. The days (sometimes mornings and evenings too) spent
    babysitting the grandmothers as they babysat their grandchildren would all be
    worth it.

    As long as she was able to keep this gig under wraps so that
    nobody who knew her real life goal would see her and laugh her to the street.
    Then the 55+ community, ElderHaven, threw a party. Everyone was invited.

    No. NOO she thought to herself. But surely no one will
    actually show up, it’s an old people party. But nope, much to her dismay, the
    local highschoolers decided to party crash, and this just so happened to be the
    party to crash. Leslie made a lot of warning tickets that day for underage
    consumption of 55+ community goods. She was actually just in the process of
    writing one last ticket to this disastrously attractive high school boy when
    she thought to herself, just my luck he’ll be a freshman or something worse. It
    was worse.

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his sister and a police officer.

    • LilianGardner

      A good story, Matt. I rely on punctuation to understand what I’m reading. Your punctuation is perfect. I use the Oxford comma when I write, at times to break up a long sentence, and also separate things like the sentence of the writing prompt. It depends on the story.

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  • FucktheOxfordComma

    Never! These things make me want to commit suicide. I wish they weren’t so common. You don’t need them! It also looks so ugly! I hate most of mankind because of them.

    If a sentence does not make sense, break it up into smaller sentences! People write sentences that are far too long anyway! People also write far too many ands in a list. Like: “My dog, and my cat, and my hamster, and my fish.” It should read “My dog, my cat, my hamster and my fish” in my opinion. Also, for the example of “We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin” it could be written “We invited the strippers. We also invited JFK and Stalin” in order to avoid confusion. Everyone or almost everyone is bound to disagree with me, but that’s just my two cents.

    I don’t like it when people use semi colons instead of colons. I prefer colons. I also hate it when people write two colons in one sentence, like this:

    This is me: this is you:.

    I also hate full stops before commas. Another thing that peeves me off is exclamation points and question marks inside elipses or brackets in the middle of sentences. They are even worse for me when a full stop or comma comes after it, like this:

    Hello (that scared me!).

    It looks absolutely and utterly absurd!
    It should be: Hello (that scared me!)

    I also do not like full stops, question marks, commas or any other punctuation marks after brackets, elipses or quotation marks. It also looks plain old ugly! It makes me want to kill everyone in the World. Everyone sucks! No one understands my depression, pain or frustration in this World. Not my friends, not my siblings, not my coworkers and certainly not my parents. No one understands how hard it is to have Aspergers. It is also hard when you are told everything you do is wrong, including how you express yourself with punctuation. These are nothing but man-made rukes anyway! And screw the British. They are fat, ugly, arrogant, stuck-up, snobby and pretentious assholes who think they are better than everyone else, even if they are not!

    Another thing I do not like is when people say “twenty-fifteen” instead of “two thousand and fifteen” for the year. We only use the first style when it comes to the years 1100-1999 in my opinion.

    People are cruel. They insist on using this ugly grammar that makes me bite myself when no one else is looking. It depresses me so much. It makes me feel lonely and devestated. I can’t tell my friends, coworkers, siblings or anyone else about it. The things that make me depressed are everywhere! From text on t.v, exhibits in museums, books one reads, text in apps, spotlight search, internet search, text on sauce bottles and whatever else you can think of where you can see it. Even the text below uses this style of grammar. I am bombarded by it! And no one will leave me alone!!! I want to kill myself, but I can’t. I am too much of a coward.

    I also hate it when people write “orthodox” and “orthodoxy,” instead of “Orthodox” and “Orthodoxy.” It is as if my Church is not important enough to have her name capitalized at all times. And other faiths steal a word from us! Absurd! Also, only Christians have clerics, not other religions. Jews have rabbis, Muslims have Mullahs and Imams and so on. I am not “Orthodox-Catholic,” “Greek Catholic” and I do not belong to the “Greek Church” as the ever pretentious and snobby Protestant theologian Philip Schaff would put it. I believe in “One, Holy, Eastern Orthodox and Apostolic Church” not “Catholic Church!” I also do not believe in “Catholicism” as it says in the mistranslations of the Church Fathers. Philip Schaff just hated our Church so much, he mislead people. Our Church is Universal, though. But I am not Catholic! Never!! I wish the Orthodox Church translated the Church Fathers into English.

    I especially hate this word, because it makes evangelicals like the one on Christ our Savior.com mix us up with Roman Catholics.

    I hate it when people say “Christian Church,” since that is redundant! The Church is of course Christian! You don’t say “Muslim Mosque” for example. Us Christians are the only ones who have clerics, too! Jews have Rabbis, Muslims have Mullahs and Imams and so on.

    We have the Liturgy, not the Mass! Roman Catholics celebrate Mass and not us. Protestants have Services.

    I also do not like Latin or Roman numerals. It is Popish! Why should Roman Catholicism infect everything?! I especially hate it when it is being applied to codexes of Justinian, who was Orthodox and a Byzantine emperor (like Codex Justinianus.) I especially do not like it when it is applied to theology, especially ours. We do not believe in the “assumptio” or assumption of Mary! That is a Catholic word! We believe in Theotokos Mary’s dormition!

    I also write the full word for Saint, not “St.” or “S” for one and “SS” for two or more. It should always be written in full to give the Saints reverence. It would be pronounced stuh in the shortened version. The word Saint or Saints should always be capitalized as well. Same goes for the He, You, Your, Him and so on of God. I also never, ever shorten Bible books names!

    I write “Saint Petersburg” instead of “St. Petersburg” for example as well. But that stupid Google Maps always corrects you! Well your wrong Google maps!

    Anyway, I am incredibly depressed. All this makes me hate almost everything in the World. Even my email address is subject to this onslaught when I go to the app store and it asks for my password! I need help. Maybe anti-depressants perhaps?

    • Mike Coller

      *you’re

  • Big Dick

    Article written by Beth, an author and a Jew.

  • Waldo

    some people say that a comma should not precede a conjunction, but i don’t know what they’re talking about.

  • jona beast

    The sole question we should be asking about the Oxford comma should be: “How can someone write an article with thousands of words and then refuse to press one key to insert a comma to reduce ambiguity”? The Oxford comma NEVER creates ambiguity. “To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God.” I know your mother is not Ayn Rand for if she were, you would have written “To my mother Ayn Rand and God.”

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  • M S

    Your example is no good and hopefully you know it.

    Amanda found herself in the Winnebago with her ex-boyfriend, an herbalist, and a pet detective.

    This would say her boyfriend is an herbalist, which would have been better said “who is an herbalist” to take away any doubt. Bogus argument for bad punctuation.

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  • Susan Spangler

    Please stop confusing my grammar students with the example about eating Grandpa. Notice that I capitalized the word because I’m using “grandpa” as his name. This example is not an example of an Oxford comma at work. Further, you could clarify the difference between the comma used with a direct address, which is what the Grandpa example is. Further, you could clarify the Oxford comma by contrasting it with a comma used with an appositive, as in the Winnebago example. Most misunderstandings with commas occur because people don’t explain enough about comma use, and your blog is a great example of how that happens.

  • I had a teacher today insist there was no such thing as an Oxford comma and that there never was when I asked her whether I should be correcting for the lack of commas. I then had another person tell me I was wrong when I bought this up… I had Grammar as an entire course for TWO YEARS STRAIGHT AND I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. The lack of Oxford commas makes it so hard to read papers.

  • PaladinswordSaurfang .

    Ironically this article about grammar and sentence structure is quite poorly written.

    “I’m here to sing the praises of punctuation; specifically, the Oxford comma.”

    Incorrect use of semicolon. “Specifically, the Oxford comma” is not an independent clause, and so a colon should be used instead. If you are an advocate of the use of semicolons, it helps if you know how to use them.

    “an herbalist” should be “a herbalist”. I’m pretty sure the “h” isn’t silent.

    “herbalist and a pet detective” is probably correct though I would personally omit the “a”.

  • L Sando

    I worked as a newspaper reporter at a daily paper in the NYC area. We wrote AP style, without the Oxford comma. Use of the comma seems rational in technical writing, where the reader encounters long lists of cumbersome terminology. There’s also a need for expediency in technical writing. Other that that, I find the comma annoying. Sometimes it disrupts the flow of prose. Too often I think it condescends to people who don’t want to stop and understand the context. Teaching people to analyze what they read in terms of context is more important to me than a comma. Literacy is more than understanding the meaning of a sentence. It involves maintaining authority over the words on a page in order to analyze what you read.

    • mra500

      Writing is done to convey information to other people. Why make them “stop and understand the context” of an unclear list when it is so easy to make a list clear with the use of a little comma? Respect your readers’ time and write clearly. By the way, you don’t have to defend the AP style just because your employer requires using it.

  • Andrew Weis

    Is the example with Grandpa a correct use of an oxford comma? I was under the impression that they are used in a “list sentences” with 3 or more items… Follow up question, is it correct to add an Oxford comma in an “or sentence.” For example, “Do you want the one thing, the other thing, or the last thing?” Is that last comma correct? Interesting article. Cheers!

  • Diana Brown

    A highly entertaining book on punctuation which I emplore both you and your followers to read is “Eats Shoots & Leaves” written by Lynne Truss. The zero tolerance approach
    to punctuation. Over the years I have read many books on punctuation, with none better than this book.

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  • Teaflax

    The comma in the grandpa example is a vocative comma, and thats’ something *entirely* different. And for the first Amanda line to reasonably be interpreted as stated, it would have to have a semicolon after “boyfriend”, or some sort of binding clause.

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  • Melissa

    It is confusing on the ACT.

  • Will

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his sister and a police officer.

    “I didn’t expect to see you here,” he said. His voice was kept calm.

    Leslie was like an icy statue, expressionless, keeping her eyes glued to her brother’s. Her hand casually touched her gun.

    After a long staring-down Leslie said, “I know what you’ve been doing, Jeremy. It’s against the law to kill people.”

    “Kill people?” His voice was almost sarcastic in its exaggerated surprise. “I never kill people, sister dearest.”

    Leslie knew this little tactic. Nothing Jeremy said felt new now. All the better for her.

    “What have you been killing then?” she asked, heavy with sarcasm too. “I thought you’d graduated from shooting birds and cats. Or that dog.”

    “You’re one to talk about shooting,” said Jeremy, his tone suddenly darker. “You and that big nasty gun of yours.”

    .

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his sister, and a police officer.

    Leslie was so good at things like this, Jeremy thought. But she’s silent. Her eyes were on her shoes, ashamed to stare back into the officer’s.

    Jeremy and Leslie knew the chubby, moustachioed police officer by sight. They knew he had this slow, drawling tone, as if he was sleepy. He didn’t look like he was going to shoot them. They were teenagers, after all. Right?

    But Leslie still said nothing.

    Jeremy stammered, “We’re very sorry, sir. My sister and I aren’t vandals, really.”

    The officer looked at Jeremy from the top of his sunglasses. “I wouldn’t call breaking a window vandalism; but it’s certainly a public offence.”

    Jeremy winced.

    The officer turned to Leslie. “D’you have anything to say for yourself, young lady?”

    But Leslie still said nothing.

  • Patrick McIntyre

    Your example claiming the Oxford comma eliminates confusion is nothing more than an excuse for poor writing skills. The sentence should have been composed as: “Amanda found herself in the Winnebago with three other people; her boyfriend, an herbalist and a pet detective.” There simply is no reason to add an extra comma.

  • REALLY?

    I have to stop reading the comments lol, I am trying not to spew coffee …

  • REALLY?

    oh btw, I can’t change this from REALLY? to a more appropriate screen name

  • REALLY?

    and lol this was all posted … 5 yrs ago

  • Kirsten

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his sister and a police officer. She studied his gaze with intrigue. Was it something she had said? She could never really interpret his facial expressions and decided to tease him into telling her what was on his mind, “So, cat got your tongue, ey?”. “Funny you should mention cats,” he ventured, his uncertain gaze turning into a cheshire smirk. “Dave’s cat has gone missing again and I …”. She knew what was coming. “Jeremy, I am a police officer, not a cat detective. Give me a break”, she purred. He was always taking a stab at her job as a police officer and he leapt at any opportunity to poke fun at her. “To be a good cop you must be an excellent cat detective, an avid doughnut eater, and an amazing sister”, he said as he threw his arm around her, prepping her for a faux pep talk.

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his sister, and a police officer. He was at the end of his tether and had managed to convince Leslie to call the police. After all, it had been 3 days since Mugsley’s disappearance. “This is not an actual crime or serious situation, you know?” his sister chimed in. “I mean, why would you call the police to come and look for your cat? That is just ridiculous.” Leslie piped up in his defence, “Jeremy thinks Mugsley was taken by the cat burglar”. The police officer could not hide the fact that this was a ridiculous pun and she let slip a little chuckle. “I’m sorry, it’s just that cat burglars are actually a crime worth defending, but in this scenario I can’t help you unless we have a real lead”, she said. Jeremy’s eyes welled up with tears. He had been keeping it cool for too long, but that cat was more than just a pet. Mugsley had been the only reason he made it through last year. If it weren’t for Mugsley he’d probably be dead.

  • Carol Anne Olsen Malone

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his sister and a police officer.

    Leslie joined the academy against their society parents’ wishes and had done her first tour of duty in the tough streets of LA facing down some of the most horrific drug traffickers, a fair share of hookers, and uptight, businessmen johns. Her latest assignment had her facing her brother, Jeremy with his own drug problems. He was going to have to think fast if he wanted to remain a free man, free to do drugs, and score some hits on the street corner of Rodeo Drive and Carmelita Avenue. Who knew drugs ran free like water on the most famous street corner in the city, and who knew his sister would turn rat on him. But to make the arrest herself in broad daylight while he was still high, that was just whack. How was he going to get himself out of this jam up? He’d likely messed up the drop point for the drugs and was not on a hit-list of the local drug cartel.

    “Spread your legs and place your hands palms down on the hood.” She pushed him toward the patrol cat. “Take it easy, Les. I’m not feelin’ all that hot.” Holy s@#$, he was in big trouble. She was really going to take him in. Right now she had him spread eagle against the hood of her patrol car running her hands through his pockets. She’d find his dime bag and know what a louse he was. “What are you, bucking for lieutenant?

    She finished going through his pockets, found the pills, and the bag. Geez.

    “Just shut up and put your hands behind your head.”

    When he did, she snapped the cuffs on one wrist, jerked it around to the middle of his back, and snapped the other side on his other wrist. He was screwed.

    “Please, Les. Can’t you let it slide this time?”

    “You’ve been sliding your whole life, Jeremy. It’s time you paid for your mistakes instead of letting Mom and Dad buy your way out.”

    With rough hands, she jerked him upright and stepped around to the back passenger door, opened it, and shoved him in. He was screwed.

    Jeremy turned and faced Leslie, his sister, and a police officer.

    He’d seen her about one second before that damned cop hauled her up against the building and started frisking her, running his hands through her pockets, and her purse. She couldn’t be using again, could she? Please lord; don’t let her have any of smack or meth on her today.

    He’d heard her tell someone on the phone about meeting someone to talk about getting some more of the good stuff, but as he followed her, he didn’t know it would take him to the corner of Rodeo Drive and Carmelita Avenue, the heart of rich-babe land. She told him she was walking down here to purchase a new purse—although with her out of work at the moment, how could she afford a new purse especially one purchased at one of the Drive’s hot-spots like Gucci.

    The cop was done frisking Leslie. Thank god he didn’t find anything on her.

    Jeremy frowned at the cop then pulled Leslie off to the side, out of the hearing of the cop. “Leslie, are you using again?” he whispered.

    When she hung her head he knew. “Damn it to hell, Les. How am I going to get you out of this jam up?