An argument for the Oxford comma

Margaret Dougherty, Editor-In-Chief

If there are three things I love in life, it would be dogs, Tostito’s lime chips and the Oxford comma. Fellow grammar enthusiasts may have noticed the glaring hypocrisy in that sentence. Let me explain.  

The Oxford comma, also referred to as the serial comma, is the final piece of punctuation in a list of three or more things. For example, without the Oxford comma, I would say that the American flag is “red, white and blue.” The Oxford comma would make that phrase “red, white, and blue.”   

When I first joined The Ionian in 2019, I had to learn how to adapt my writing to follow the rules of AP Style. The AP Stylebook is a style and usage guide that journalists utilize in their writing. There are plenty of grammatical rules that proved to be adjustments for me, but the most difficult adjustment by far was abandoning the Oxford comma. AP Style claims that one comma is sufficient for a list of three things. I sincerely disagree.  

The strongest argument in defense of the Oxford comma is the confusion that can occur with its absence. If I say that I met with “my siblings, Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya,” one could assume that my relatives were recently in an adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel “Dune.” However, my siblings are not that talented. If I simply add one little Oxford comma, I meet with three separate entities: “my siblings, Timothée Chalamet, and Zendaya.” 

This may seem nitpicky and that is exactly what the anti-Oxford comma crowd tries to argue. They claim that people are smart enough to assume whether a grouping of words is a list or not. However, I’ve learned that it can be a slippery slope entrusting people with such assumptions.  

The anti-Oxfords also contend that any confusion can be addressed by switching the order of the words. I admit this may be true. Yet, I think the English language is confusing enough without throwing in another rule to remember. 

I appreciate consistency, and the Oxford comma offers that. Regardless of whether the Oxford comma is necessary or not, you can’t deny it looks nice. If there is a comma after the first word in a group, I feel it’s only appropriate to have one after the second as well.  

I’m not advocating for commas at every corner. I am well aware of how overused they can be. Still, as a writer I think they are an important tool in separating my words in the way in which I intend my audience to read them. 

Not to make this article any more confusing than it has already been, but I think I will go there. There is an exception to the AP style rule against Oxford commas. If I write that I had chicken, broccoli, and bread and butter for dinner, I am allowed to have that second comma because one of my items already has the word “and” in it (“bread and butter”). If this qualifying rule exists, why not just make it the norm? 

I am not alone in these beliefs. Even as I type this piece on Microsoft Word, I am met with dotted blue lines telling me to add an Oxford comma in my lists. I have to repeatedly remind my computer that, although I appreciate her concerns, I am writing in AP style.  

I unfortunately could go on about this topic for several more minutes, but I don’t think I will get anywhere with the almighty rulers of AP style. Their minds seem to have been made. Therefore, I will continue to follow their law while writing for The Ionian. However, I will continue to appreciate, promote and fight for the Oxford comma.