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Yeas and Nays of the Oxford Comma

Are you team Oxford comma or not? Not quite sure where you stand in this controversial grammar debate? Check out our rundown of the entire argument and decide for yourself because, at the end of the day, it’s a matter that defines your personal style.


For more on grammar visit the fun, comprehensive, and free EasyBib grammar guides! Explore conjunctions worksheets, prepositional phrase examples, and a list of determiners, too. Also, run your paper through an EasyBib grammar check — it’s a great way to catch easy-to-overlook errors.


 

What is the Oxford comma?

The Oxford comma is named after the Oxford University Press. It’s also known as the serial comma, and is the last comma in a list of things.

For example:

Laura wants to buy bananas, oranges, apples, and pears. 

In this sentence, the Oxford comma lies between “apples” and “and.” It’s difficult to see what the big deal is here. With or without the comma it’s just a list of fruit. But in a famous class action suit, this tiny mark of punctuation changed everything.

A comma in court

In the state of Maine, a group of dairy truckers sued their employer for back overtime earned while delivering goods. At the time, the state law said:

“Workers are not entitled to overtime pay for: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.”

One punctuation-loving lawyer took a look at this and argued that without a comma after the word shipment, it is only the “packaging for shipment” that isn’t eligible for overtime, not the distribution itself. Thanks to the missing comma, the truckers won their case.

Now an anti-Oxford comma supporter could argue that the contract was poorly written and that the meaning would be clear with a simple rearrangement of words. Can you see why this is such a hot topic? 

Before you sign up for one team or another, here’s what else the yeas and nays have to say.

Yeas

Easy on the Eyes
The additional comma makes the sentence easier to read.

Clarity
Even in a poorly written sentence, the Oxford comma ensures that the meaning is clear.

The Big Guns
The Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), and Oxford University Press all support the Oxford comma.

Old Friends
Many love the Oxford comma because they were taught to use it growing up, and old habits die hard.

Compelling as this all is, you should hear what the other guys have to say.

Nays 

American vs. British
Despite its name, the Oxford comma is less likely to be used by Brits.

Don’t Be So Lazy

There is a strong argument for taking the time to craft a sentence that is clear without extra punctuation. 

Grammar Snobs
Some believe that the Oxford comma is a pretentious add-on used to make grammar nerds feel superior.

More Big Guns

Associated Press Style Book (AP), and the New York Times do not support the Oxford comma. Keep in mind, however, that newspapers are often pressed for space.

Tip: Some think it is a good idea to decide on a case by case basis, but may we suggest you save yourself some time and choose just one? Otherwise, you’ll have this argument with yourself every time the Oxford comma comes up. 

Like the debate over vanilla vs. chocolate, there are no true winners or losers when it comes to the Oxford comma, it’s all about personal taste and that is completely up to you.


Works Cited

Bradley, Rachel. “Why We Need The Serial Comma: 10 Hilarious Real-World Examples.” Dictionary.com, 12 Apr. 2019, www.dictionary.com/e/s/serial-comma/#4.

Johnson, Carla, et al. “The Oxford Comma and Why We Argue Over Grammar.” Ann Handley, 4 Jan. 2019, annhandley.com/oxford-comma/.

“What Is the ‘Oxford Comma’?” Lexico, //www.lexico.com/en/explore/what-is-the-oxford-comma.


A question for you (with the Oxford comma): “It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.” Which famous figure said this? Was it a Dr. Seuss quote, from our collection of Albert Einstein quotes, or a Marilyn Monroe movie line? Find out in the EasyBib topic guides!

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