The Oxford Comma [infographic]

January 28, 2014 |  by  |  Business, Education

There’s this little thing in the grammar world called an Oxford comma. Basically, it is the comma placed before the conjunction in a series of words in a sentence. And yes, it’s totally confusing and the cause of much debate.

Let me try to break it down for you. Here are two sentences, one of which uses the Oxford comma:

a. After it happened, I only talked to my therapists, my mom and my dad.

b. After it happened, I only talked to my therapists, my mom, and my dad.

In the first sentence, ‘I’ is implying that the mom and dad are the therapists, making it seem like only two other people are involved. The second sentence clarifies that the subject is speaking about three or more people.

Neither of these are incorrect, depending on who you talk to. If you ask most grammar enthusiasts, the Oxford comma is accepted and encouraged for clarification. But if you are dealing with someone who works in the news industry and uses the AP Stylebook, the sentence is correct if you omit the last comma entirely. As both of these things, I personally think the Oxford comma is valid in certain instances and I use it when necessary.

For those of you who aren’t really interested in grammar but are a fan of good music, check out the song of the same name by one of my favorite bands, Vampire Weekend. [via]


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  • Ellen_in_Ohio

    So if the American Psychological Association recommends using the Oxford comma why doesn’t AP Style allow it? After all, that association is the “AP” in AP Style! This frustrates me as I’m an Oxford-comma-all-the-way person and my grad school requires papers to be written per AP Style. Gahhh!

    • Aisling Clare

      I couldn’t tell you why AP Style won’t allow it because I can’t actually identify the reason. However, AP Style is from The Associated Press and is for writing in the news industry, like the hard news stories you see in papers. APA is from the American Psychological Association and that is usually for writing research papers. So if you’re writing research papers in grad school, you should be good using the Oxford comma.

      • Ellen_in_Ohio


      • igamu

        The reason AP style omits it is space. In traditional printed newspapers, every character counted for space before we could ‘cheat’ with computer programs designed for typesetting. Space was a valuable commodity, and that ‘extra’ comma (which I happen to love) was taking up too much space.

    • Megan Hamby

      Ellen, AP Style is “Associated Press” Style. It is used for news industry. APA style is the American Psychological Association’s style of writing. Don’t worry, it gets confusing! I was a journalism major (AP style), a social welfare minor (APA style), and now I edit books (Chicago style). It’s easy to get them all mixed up. For your grad school papers, you’re most likely going to use APA style—so stick with the Oxford comma and you’ll be good!

      • Ellen_in_Ohio

        Thanks, this is helpful… and good news for my school papers!

  • Mr. Grammardere

    2 issues here – 1) An Oxford comma is placed before the conjunction, not after. 2) By true definition, only example b shows an Oxford comma. The comma in example a should really be a dash, as the explanation that the therapists are indeed the speaker’s parents is not part of the flow of the sentence and should be set off accordingly.

    Basically, you can’t use these sentences as examples because the proper use of the Oxford comma (a comma used in a series…also called a “serial comma”) is only valid in one sentence.

    • igamu

      Your #2 is a style choice, not a grammar rule.

    • Wyse Guy

      Those weren’t supposed to be examples with two different meanings. They were supposed to show the same sentence with and without the serial comma and how it CAN cause confusion when you leave it out.

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