The Oxford Comma

What’s an Oxford comma? It’s the comma before and in a list. In the sentence below, there’s an Oxford comma after tea:

We served coffee, tea, and cake to our guests.

Students are sometimes told that God (or Moses, or someone) made a rule that the Oxford comma is wrong. (That happens to journalism students all the time.)

No, it isn’t. The Oxford comma is a choice.

That comma is wrong if you’re writing for a newspaper or magazine. (If omitting that comma messes up the sentence, you put it back in.)

Here are some rules:

  • If you’re a journalist, you omit it.
  • If you’re an academic, you use it.
  • If someone’s paying you to write, you ask them their policy about that comma, and you follow it.
  • If that comma (or the lack of it) causes a problem with a sentence, you fix it.
  • If you’re writing on your own, you make your own decision.
  • What you never (ever!) do is argue about it.


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