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The Oxford Comma

So… you’re a copywriter, you’ve got to make a list of three things and you know that commas are going to be involved. The question is how many? Well, that all depends on how you view the Oxford comma. Yes: you.

You see the greatest thing about The English Language is probably also the worst thing. It’s not like the romantic languages; there’s no ruling body of stuffy academics assigned to keep things in shape. Proper grammar in The English Language is determined by popular use or “consensus.” (That’s why text messaging ‘tweens have English professors running for their pitchforks and torches.) But I digress…

The serial comma (a.k.a. the Oxford or Harvard comma) is the comma used before a conjunction that comes before the last item in a list . Here’s two examples:

“Tom, Dick, and Harry” is written with the serial or Oxford Comma.

“Tom, Dick and Harry” is written without it.

They both mean the same thing and neither is wrong. How you feel about the two uses is a product of your location and education. Most US authorities think the Oxford Comma is proper.

So who knows how many commas to use in your list? No one. No one knows. It’s a matter of personal taste and, personally, I get the heebie jebbies when I run my eyes across a list without an Oxford Comma placed before the grammatical conjunction. You see, I was raised to believe in The Oxford Comma. Mrs. Shultz, my third grade teacher, struck fear into my heart over the issue. Which is why I can’t see doing it any other way. Can you? Because it’s an important distinction…

Who gives a **** about an Oxford comma?
I’ve seen those English dramas too
They’re cruel
So if there’s any other way
To spell the word
It’s fine with me, with me

-Vampire Weekend