Q: I work on my school’s alumni magazine and the editor insists that we use Oxford commas. She said Strunk and White are pro-Oxford comma in The Elements of Style. I pointed out that the AP Stylebook used by journalists advises against it. Then she said, “If they’re good enough for Oxford, they’re good enough for us.” Who is right?

Oxford commas are part of the grammar evolution

In the evolution of underwear, the coverage considered proper has diminished from essay-length to an exclamation point. Grammar, like undies, evolves.

A: Oxford comma arguments always seem to end with someone’s knickers in a twist. Let’s see if we can unwind this for you. Oxford commas, also known as Harvard commas and serial commas, are commas placed before the conjunction (and/or/nor) in a list of three or more items. One thing most grammarians agree on is that the Oxford comma, formerly considered Proper English, is now optional. Thus, both of the following examples are grammatically correct:

  • With Oxford comma: Nina Garcia, Heidi Klum, and Zac Posen are the judges on Project Runway.
  • Without Oxford comma: Nina Garcia, Heidi Klum and Zac Posen are the judges on Project Runway.

In our view, clarity is the holy grail of punctuation and the Oxford comma after Heidi Klum does nothing to clarify the sentence. We opt not to use it. Yet the real issue is not who is right, but rather who gets to choose the one style everyone will use consistently throughout your publication. Hint: If you’re not the boss, the “who” isn’t you.

P.S. The indie-rock band Vampire Weekend doesn’t care much for the Oxford comma (okay, so that’s not exactly how they put it). But they made a fun, poppy song about it. Don’t click if you’re offended by mild profanity.

Need help writing or editing for your website or blog? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].

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