Oxford Comma or No Oxford Comma: That Is the Question

The school year has officially begun again, which means that I’ll be surrounded by piles of papers soon. Of course, this is actually metaphorical because all of the assignments for my classes are turned in digitally. It’s wonderful because I type far faster than I can write by hand, can more easily edit papers, and don’t have to carry around piles of papers. Though there always is a certain appeal that comes with physical papers and not staring at a screen for hours. But I digress.

Even though words are such an important part of my life, I wouldn’t consider myself a serious grammarian. Yes, I do mentally correct other people’s grammar while they speak sometimes and can’t ignore the apostrophes and awkward phrasing in writing, but I’m not OCD about it.

However, there are a few grammatical rules and techniques that do evoke some passionate feelings. One of these is the Oxford comma.

If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s the use of a comma before the “and” in a list of three or more items. For example: “In my spare time, I like to read, write, and play video games.”

While it’s perfectly acceptable not to use that comma, I really like it. Partly because I like commas and partly because without the Oxford comma, things can get confusing (and a bit hilarious).

For example: “I like to spend time with the dogs, Ashley, and Heather.”

It’s clear enough that Ashley and Heather are not my dogs, right?

But if, “I like to spend time with the dogs, Ashley and Heather,” it’s not so clear. It feels like Ashley and Heather could be the dogs. And while I’ve seen some hilarious memes about how much stranger this can get, it shows what sort of confusion can arise.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I’ll judge you for not using the Oxford comma (unless you’re one of my middle schoolers since I’ll have the urge to change it in all of your papers). But you won’t catch me skipping out on the Oxford comma.

Do you use the Oxford comma? Do you feel very passionate about any grammar rules?

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15 responses to “Oxford Comma or No Oxford Comma: That Is the Question

  • Eric

    Absolutely Oxford comma. Always. Always have, always will.

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    Serial comma (as the CMOS calls it :-) ), definitely. I was not as firm when I wrote A Sane Woman all those years ago, but I think my more recent stuff is consistent.

    Rules I feel passionate about? Hmmm. How much time do you have? :-)

    Here’s one: people are “who,” not “that.” “We have a new temp that doesn’t know anything.” No, no matter how clueless, that temp is a “who.”

    I try not to use “contact” as a verb — except at work where it’s pretty much built into Modern Corporate English. But otherwise, no.

    I never use “presently.” Its real meaning (“in the near future”) is pretty much lost, and I won’t use it to mean “now.”

    I’ll probably be back when I think of some more.

  • After Dark Sewing

    Ooh I use the Oxford comma! I didn’t know it had a name. I agree that things can get confusing without it. I remember being taught that you shouldn’t put a comma before ‘and’… So I actually thought I was wrong to! That’s for proving I’m right!!
    One thing that irritates me is the use of apostrophies. So many people put them in when they’re not needed. There’s a sign near where I live saying ‘car’s brought or sold for cash!’ So two mistakes there… It annoys me every time I see it!

  • Rebekah Loper

    I definitely prefer using the Oxford comma. It drove me nuts when I was writing for Yahoo! Contributor Network… because they didn’t like it.

  • C.B. Wentworth

    Sometimes I feel like such a hypocrite for being a writer that doesn’t pay much attention to grammar. I am simply more interested in getting the story out instead of figuring out what kind of punctuation is correct. At one time, I drove myself crazy trying to figure out all the rules, but then I realized that’s what an editor is for. Worth every penny. :-)

  • http://theenglishprofessoratlarge.com

    Definitely, the Oxford Comma should thrive! It eliminates ambiguity.

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