To Oxford comma or not to Oxford comma?

Graphic courtesy of

Graphic courtesy of

The Oxford comma is one of the many paradoxes of the English language. We were taught to put a comma before “and” in a list of three or more ideas, and since then, we have unquestioningly followed this rule.

Journalism is different, though. We don’t use the Oxford comma; we believe that the “and” is already enough to separate two different ideas. In the spirit of simplicity, we do away with the Oxford comma that we learned to love in our elementary English classes.

With the English language in constant evolution, we must ask ourselves — should we use it in our writing? This is with the exception of journalistic-style writing, as the rule of having no Oxford commas is hard and fast.

The answer is: it’s up to you. The Oxford comma is one of those grammar rules that depends on what suits your writing style or what makes the most sense in the context of your written work.

I’m sorry to break it to you, but the Oxford comma that we all have known to love or hate is no longer vital to the grammatical feasibility of our essays. It’s not completely gone though — there is an ongoing debate among academic professionals whether or not the Oxford comma is still necessary.

There are those who say that without the Oxford comma, your written work can become confusing:

In the hospital waiting room there was a nurse, a pregnant woman and a construction worker.

Without the Oxford comma, you might jump to the conclusion that the pregnant woman is also a construction worker, which would obviously not make any sense. So you would rephrase it with the Oxford comma to avoid confusion:

In the hospital waiting room there was a nurse, pregnant woman, and a construction worker.

Those who are for the Oxford comma argue that the sentence can be re-ordered to avoid the aforementioned confusion:

In the hospital waiting room there was a construction worker, a nurse and a pregnant woman.

Ultimately, it is up to the writer to include or exclude the Oxford comma. The Oxford comma is completely optional, and depends on the context of the sentence, so use it at your discretion. Also know that the Oxford comma will not be going away anytime soon.