Do you use the Oxford Comma?

Do you use the Oxford Comma? Also known as the serial or Harvard comma, it is added after before the last conjunction in a series of three or more items.

“I thank my parents, Ayn Rand, and God” versus “I thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God”. Proponents argue that not only is the latter absurd, Ayn Rand would have rejected such a collaborative arrangement with God of all people 😉

Whatever your thoughts on this, I do hope you don’t use a double space after a period?

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119 Responses to Do you use the Oxford Comma?

  1. Rajini Rao says:

    Agree! Opponents would argue that if it did not make sense, the sentence ought simply to be re-phrased 🙂

  2. I always use it. We had a few grammar-nazis-in-training in school, and one said that “comma and” was wrong. Our teacher heard him say that and drilled it into his head that it was correct. And urged us to use it as much as possible.

    Actually, when commas give rise to weird interpretations, use the semicolon! Much more fun, and it makes your writing look sophisticated 😉

  3. Rajini Rao says:

    Haha, Jacob Dix , Stalin +JFK and the stripper is a good one!

    I love semicolons; they do add a stylish dash Manish Goregaokar 😉

  4. I hadn’t been using it.. I would normally rearrange my writing to make the normal comma look appropriate. However I think I’ll start using it now.

  5. Fox E. Law says:

    might even change my mind … 😉

  6. Kurt Vonnegut said that using the semicolon was just wrong….. I’ll go with him….. On the comma issue, it should be a matter of less is more…

  7. Rufus Evison says:

    I do whatever feels right for the emphasis of the sentence at the time.

  8. Jacob Dix says:

    I’m from the US, and use it despite it not being in such wide use there. I don’t like ambiguity, so maybe that’s it.

  9. Rajini Rao says:

    Think of all the pedantic fun the Oxford comma generates! This famous story for example: After lunch, the panda fires a gun at fellow customers in a café. To justify his actions to the waiter, the panda points at the shoddy wildlife manual, where he is defined as a mammal that “eats, shoots, and leaves”.

  10. Achintya Rao says:

    I’m not a fan of the Oxford comma and avoid it as much as possible, but sometimes find that it does illustrate lists better.

  11. Cory Leonard says:

    wait wait… no double space? when did that happen?

  12. Joe Repka says:

    That illustration fails and is misleading. Dump the dogma. Use whatever works best for the purpose of clear expression.

  13. Jabir Quadir says:

    Certainly I use it. Even if I want to, I can’t stop myself from using it. I understand people who say that it defeats the purpose of “and”. But I feel its more expressive and clear with the Harvard comma. What say?

  14. Jacob Dix says:

    Rajini Rao That example should read “eats, shoots , and leaves.”

  15. Rajini Rao says:

    Cory Leonard , I stopped doing that..I’m told it is a left over from old typesetting days. Slate has strong opinions on this:

    Good catch, Jacob Dix ..I was shooting myself in the foot there!

  16. I love the oxford coma, and use it frequently; even though I had never heard of the term until you posted it here Rajini.

    With punctuation, if you are uncertain, it helps to read your sentence, or paragraph aloud.

  17. Rajini Rao says:

    Terry Hallett , there was a minor brouhaha last summer when Oxford University put out a notice that they would no longer require their PR division to use it in press releases. That created a firestorm (in a teapot) until they clarified that they still stood by it. For the record, most US newspapers do not use it and follow the convention set by Associated Press (AP). That’s the story!

  18. Achintya Rao says:

    Terry Hallett: There should possibly be a comma after “paragraph”. 🙂

  19. My excuse: its so damn early in the morn hereAchintya Rao LOL

  20. My thoughts: what a beautiful way to waste time by thinking about this, Grammar is overrated, We should be focusing more on what is written rather then how it is written,

  21. Rajini Rao says:

    I appreciate all beautiful ways to waste time, Miodrag Milić , you should know that of me by now 😉 Richard Chenevix Trench said, “Grammar is the logic of speech, even as logic is the grammar of reason.” Moliere is believed to have said that grammar can control even kings!

  22. I disagreeMiodrag Milić sloppy writing leads to sloppy thinking, leads to semi-literate culture.


  23. I agree, it can control kings.. It can not control nature, however, which is far more important 🙂

    Stephen Fry Kinetic Typography – Language

  24. Rajini Rao PS, the only thing I thank Ayn Rand for is her demise.

  25. Rufus Evison says:

    Rajini Rao go up to someone you will never see again and tell them something good about themselves. That they are beautiful or something is the easiest way to start. It adds some smiles to the world and is a beautiful way to waste a sunny afternoon. Just wander around finding people, and stopping them tio say something nice and then moving on…

  26. Rajini Rao says:

    Terry Hallett , I was hoping someone would notice my reference to Ayn Rand 😉

  27. sloppy writing leads to sloppy thinking

    You are right. Entire medical profession is guilty of sloppy thinking 😉

    Doctors on protest:

  28. Rajini Rao says:

    Miodrag Milić , I’m convinced pharmacists take a special course in decoding physician’s writing 🙂 I wonder if everything is electronic now and that may be a quirk of the past?

  29. Rufus Evison says:

    Rajini Rao You said you appreciated beautiful wastes of time so I thought I would offer you one I have enjoyed occassionally. A bit off the topic of oxford commas but somehow nice anyway…

  30. Rufus Evison says:

    Miodrag Milić sadly people go in to medicine to help people not to do science. In time they end up in research but the underlying motivation means they can get drawn into sloppy thining. I have seen it happen on numerous occassions (anecdotal but produces useful predictions).

  31. That is off topic now, isn’t it ? 😛

    And only proves waste of time (by pharmacists in this case)

  32. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks, Chris Foster , I was thinking of including that link (the song came up in a google search) but totally forgot! It is funny 🙂

  33. Achintya Rao says:

    Terry Hallett: Its nevar to early in the day to get youre grammer write.

  34. The Oxford comma is best because you want the reader to pause at that point.

  35. Once upon a time I was married to a pharmacistRajini Rao and so from that experience I’m convinced that electronic prescriptions saves lives

  36. +1’d for the Ayn Rnd mention

  37. V. Devaney says:

    I use the Oxford comma. I was started with it in school. A high school instructor tried to make me stop but it didn’t take. Also what about two spaces after a full stop? I use that on my phone because I can set it to place the full stop whenever I type two spaces.

  38. Rajini Rao says:

    V. Devaney , the history and rules of spacing after a period is interesting, I think you will enjoy this article (reposting my link from above):

  39. I use it. Leaving it out implies the last two items are grouped and I want to be more precise.

  40. Use it. Same reasons as R. Scott Kimsey

  41. Rufus Evison says:

    Rajini Rao and +V. Devaney thank you for the interesting article. I came across (a bit over a year ago) a company who made moey out of automated messing with typographty. They ‘improved’ readability, as measured by click through rates and share frequencey,byt changing the spacing between phrases to provide emphasis. They had a bunch of statistics to say it work3ed bu I never persued it.

    I never used double space after periods even with typewriters though I will now consider it if using a proportional spacing font. Thank you again.

  42. In Spanish the comma is not used before the equivalent of “and” (which is “y”), like “Fui a comer con Juan, Elena, Rodrigo y Raul” (I went o eat with Juan, Elena, Rodrigo and Raul). In this case the last two names of the list are treated as in individual items on the list; not like an association of the two names. I guess the interpretation is different in English.

  43. Paul Miller says:

    I do still use a double space after a period, thank you. It’s a habit that goes too far back to bother changing now. Happily, you can’t tell. The modern web and LaTeX hide this fact from you.

  44. Rajini Rao says:

    Dennis Johnson , I did clarify (above) that AP Press, used by American newspapers, recommends against it. However, that is not universally accepted: most US style guides and college writing handbooks recommend usage, as does The Chicago Manual of Style, and of course Harvard and Oxford press.

    Anyway, I hope you readers realize that my opinions are tongue-in-cheek (i.e., in jest). For a funny article on this, I recommend:

  45. Why can’t humans, just like some compilers, ignore extra ‘,’ or “;” in the sentence 😛

    Thumbs up for machines 🙂

    goes to beautifully waste some more time…

  46. Sultan Saini says:

    I prefer the Oxford comma because it guarantees unambiguity.

  47. Chad Haney says:

    I always use the Oxford comman and I try to use the semicolon more often; especially when the following sentence is stronger when connected to the previous one. It will probably take a long time to stop using two spaces. Thanks Rajini Rao for the Slate article. I’m dating myself but I learned to type on a typewriter. The teacher said to always use two spaces at the end of a sentence. She was so militant. Who knew she was wrong?

  48. Rajini Rao says:

    I think this conversation proves, Chad Haney , that there is no right or wrong; only strong opinions 🙂

  49. Sultan Saini Yes. That looks to be the reasoning many of us use. To me, it is an easy decision. There are times when I am writing a list of items that I wish for two items in the list to be taken together as a group. There are other times when I wish for the items to be taken individually. What better way of making that intent clear than with a comma? Because my writing has to be precise, I use it. I do not want to be ambiguous.

  50. James Harris says:

    I read a writer who said to use commas for breath pauses and it made my life so much easier, I haven’t worried about commas since, though, it can annoy some people! And the two spaces after periods was taught to me, though now it is mostly hidden by modern rendering. Feels weird when I don’t do it.

  51. As far as I can remember, even the Oxford style books don’t recommend the so called Oxford comma except in the very very few cases where a confusion could happen (not in the picture one).

    Anyway, my comment is to say: who gives a fuck about the Oxford comma? Vampire Weekend – Oxford Comma

  52. Dennis Johnson Not if it renders a sentence unclear. I favor using the least punctuation possible while retaining clarity. If it was simply a matter of less is better, then the obvious solution would be to use no punctuation 🙂

  53. Picky, picky, picky. Commas are free. When in doubt, add one.

  54. Rajini Rao says:

    I’m guessing the concluding sentence in the link I cited above refers to Dennis Johnson : Unless you’re writing for an American newspaper, living in the U.K. or Australia, or leading a campaign against superfluous punctuation, use the serial comma, or the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma 🙂 Víktor Bautista i Roca , funny song- but Chris Foster beat you to it 😉

  55. Rajini Rao says:

    Common sense prize goes to Sandy Orenstein !

  56. Rajini Rao Too many comments, didn’t read them all. 😦

  57. J Stasko says:

    English grammar, and especially the use of the comma, or should I say spelling, doesn’t make any sense. Just remember the silly rules. If you want logical comma grammar, consider the rules in Russian. Those rules are much more like the rules we see in artificial languages like programming, where one places the period outside the “encaplulator.”

    x = 3 * ( 2 + a ) ;

    I’m proposing that (from my point of view, “American”) English grammar rules and spelling are affected by the advent of artificial languages. The original comma rules for English are more closely related to the patterns and breathing of natural speech, not logical expression.

  58. Rajini Rao says:

    Matko Lokas Hey, I did not know that a colon could be used inside a word as an abbreviation in Swedish, Finnish or old English!

  59. Oh man- you probably hate my grammar then. With my… and my dashes to separate things.

  60. Rajini Rao says:

    Haha, sorry you two: Jimmy Shepard and Tania Moya ! I can’t use dashes on my G+ posts…turns them into strikethroughs, bah!

  61. Rajini Rao You must use typographic dashes: ‒o‒, –o–, —o—, ―o―. This – is not a dash, but a hyphen: o

  62. Rajini Rao says:

    Tania Moya , that’s one of my favorite articles on the Alot monster 🙂 Oh, Feisal Kamil , what have you done?! I will never be able to contemplate commas again without blushing..innocence lost 🙂

  63. Akhil Dutta says:

    How did a grammar lesson appear on my what’s hot list ? 😉

  64. University of Oxford Style Guide: «As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’.»

  65. Akhil Dutta – It must be the accompanying graphic.

  66. Rajini Rao Your example «where he is defined as a mammal that “eats, shoots, and leaves”» has NOTHING at all to do with the Oxford comma.

    a) the definition in the dictionary was “eats, shoots and leaves”

    b) the problem is the comma between “eats” and “shoots”, and this is not at all an Oxford comma.

    By the way, the book about it is good to read.

  67. In general, I use the Oxford comma to ensure clarity.

  68. J Huntemann says:

    I . would . never . do . that . ! “Whatever your thoughts on this, I do hope you don’t use a double space after a period?”

  69. Totally a proponent of the Oxford Comma, even before this post, and indeed before the xkcd comic on the same topic. It just looks…more proper. Even to a silly American like me.

  70. Rajini Rao says:

    Kyle Fernandez , we silly Americans can be surprisingly proper at times 🙂

  71. Tate West says:

    Did you mean to say “it is added before the last conjunction”? I do use the Oxford Comma. I also double space after a period, as I was taught. Is that not considered correct?

  72. Rajini Rao says:

    Tate West , I’ll forgive you for not looking through ~90 comments 🙂 so here is the link re. the double space:

    THANKS for catching my error, I’ll edit it 🙂

  73. Feisal Kamil isn’t it exactly what I said? The problem is the comma between eats and shoots.

  74. Ian D'Souza says:

    People who think having two or more spaces is ‘wrong’ should try to read some dense mathematical physics texts. Spacing arguments are for artsies. It’s about how it looks and what you want to say. Typographers are like wine tasters. They’re full of it. How many spaces do you use when you hand-write?? Penn and Teller bullshit “The Best” 😀

  75. Tate West says:

    Rajini Rao Thank you. I read the article to which you linked. I think Farhad is a little too reactionary about the issue, and maybe even a little arrogant. Imagine. He is sitting at a table full of, in his own words, “doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals,” and he assumes that he is right an they are wrong, when they are unanimous in their belief that two spaces are correct.

    I read what Mavis Beacon thinks about it, and according to what I found, you can now use either one or two spaces after a period in her program. As for me, I went through a formal typing class in high school, and was taught to use two spaces by a lady who had been typing for 60 years.

  76. Ian D’Souza I do not think it is a matter of right or wrong, but operational efficiency. I get your point about mathematical physics texts (and some others), but for general use I find the Oxford Comma a good way to clarify lists, while the double-space after a period to be, well, too retro for my taste — a convention that dates back to smudgy typewriters with tangled ribbons.

  77. But what about those (Ampersanders is what I call them) who misuse the ampersand? “…my parents, Ayn Rand, & God?”

  78. Bill Moisuk says:

    My thoughts are that it’s hard to get excited about this post and its contents until we can get people to come close to realizing and caring about the difference between “it’s” and “its”. They’re not going to change their habits unless something is put into place to stop this. We need to put into effect a strategy which will affect the basic English usage problems that we see everywhere. Every day we see that extreme misuse occurs; it’s becoming an everyday experience.

  79. Vishal Naik says:

    I had to read the sentence not once, or twice, but thrice to understand the meaning of Oxford Comma

  80. Chad Haney says:

    Sorry to diverge back to the two space after a period conversation, but here’s the link to the Chicago Manual of Style. It will take some time to change my ways. I find it interesting that none of the publishers have pointed this out in my manuscripts. Maybe they just correct it and don’t say anything.

  81. Rajini Rao says:

    Hi Tate West , ignore Farhad’s tone..I refer only to the history of the spacing after a period and current typographical convention. Exactly as you say, people who use 2 spaces learned that on typewriters, at a time before the fonts were proportional and one needed to distinguish between individual words and the start of a new sentence. Whether I put one or two spaces, they are changed to one space by the time my manuscripts reach publication (in professional science journals).

  82. My local ice cream shop had a sign that read “Today’s specials: Peach melba, coconut, chocolate fudge and almond swirl.” Because there was no Oxford comma I thought I could order a delicious mixture of fudge and almond. It turns out it was two different flavors. I was never so disappointed by a comma.

  83. Rajini Rao says:

    That’s a much better example than “toast and orange juice”, Curtis Larimer !

  84. Tom Dignazio says:

    I still double space after the period. I know it’s useless outside of a typewriter. But there it is. You’ve just read it three times. And again. Deal with it. That’s five times now.

  85. Rajini Rao says:

    Chad Haney, I think the spacing is automatically corrected during ‘typesetting’ or whatever it is the publishers do with our word docs! They only check back with us when the meaning of a phrase may change with their edits. 🙂 Tom Dignazio , to whom are you referring? I don’t care how many spaces you use, go for it! 🙂

  86. I still like your work, DR.

  87. Maybe His Majesty Google knows The Right Answer ( :

  88. Rajini Rao says:

    Konstantin Makov , thank you for letting us know that we can now google punctuation marks! Unfortunately, I tried an emoticon and got this: Your search – 🙂 – did not match any documents.

  89. Rajini Rao maybe try this ( :

  90. Rajini Rao

    he can find comma and point. of course , it’s hard to find such unique signs.

    but it’s something already… ( :

    did Peter Lindelauf say his opinion about Oxford Comma?

    he loves commas more then…their absence,as i know.

  91. Rajini Rao says:

    I would love to hear from Peter Lindelauf ! Is it not amazing that a grammar post can have such a great discussion? Maybe this G+ is worthwhile after all? 😉

  92. Rajini Rao says:

    Sorry I missed it Peter Lindelauf ! I thought I was keeping on top of things 🙂

  93. Rajini Rao says:

    I’m pretty sure I never saw it..perhaps you commented on a share? I only deleted one spam message.

  94. oh…thx G , Peter , am not along.

    twice – up and down…

  95. Yes, I use it. It is how I was taught English and it is a habit. But, with everything else it has to be used properly in order to make sense.

  96. Rickie B says:

    Not entirely pedantic Rajini or entirely surplus to requirements – Originale shakespeare would have used an Oxford comma methinks – rsj

  97. Rajini Rao says:

    Perchance he did, R-j Barrett ! Mayhap a scholar of the Bard doth know the answer?

  98. Sometimes I use the Oxford comma, sometimes I don’t, and now I’m feeling confused about the difference between the two methods of punctuation. <-[no double space:]

  99. Rajini Rao says:

    It all depends, Marc Ponomareff . If your parents were Ayn Rand and God, then you may freely omit the Oxford comma 😉

  100. I use the Oxford comma as well as the double-space after periods.

  101. If this is true, Microsoft Word grammar checker misled many to think rules have changed.

  102. I finally understand why in some books they put a comma before “and”; it’s Oxford comma. In other languages this kind of syntax would be wrong

  103. J Stasko says:

    Microsoft controls the universe.

  104. Years ago I’d read about this in a book titled “Handbook for Writers” with interesting examples. Since, then I tend to use comma befor ‘and’ in a list of items separated by commas.

  105. Rajini Rao You have started something… I love it. Hahahahahaha. So entertaining, passionate, and educational.

  106. hello rajini i m ajy i hope u r well

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