How to properly use the Oxford comma

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You’ll often find that many grammatical rules are non-negotiable, such as capitalizing proper nouns or using syntax to create comprehensible sentences. However, some rules can be flexible enough to cause some confusion among writers.

In this blog, we’ll teach you about the tricky concept known as the Oxford comma.

What is the Oxford comma?

The Oxford comma is a unique punctuation mark that may occur at the end of a list containing three or more items. For example, when writing out “one, two, and three,” the comma placed after the “two” would be considered an Oxford comma. The mark has been heavily debated as something that might be unnecessary to the sentence and is often used based on personal preference. You’ll likely come across several writing style guides that welcome the Oxford comma, and others that ban its use entirely.

When should you use the Oxford comma?

The first step toward finding out whether or not to include the Oxford comma is to check what writing style you’re supposed to use for the content being produced. Several guides approve of the punctuation mark, such as the MLA Style Manual, U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual, and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

Alternatively, guides like the New York Times Stylebook, the Canadian Press Style Guide, and the University of Oxford Style Guide advise against using the Oxford comma. Ask clients what their preferences are before starting a piece, or look for any special in-house writing guides provided by your employer.

Potential issues to look out for

It’s important to note that mixing plural and proper nouns in your lists may cause misunderstandings depending on the phrasing. Writing “I love my pets, McDonald’s and Starbucks” could imply that your pets’ names are McDonald’s and Starbucks. The confusion can be prevented by adding the Oxford comma after “McDonald’s.” If you’re using a style guide that specifically asks to avoid utilizing the Oxford comma, then you should rewrite the sentence with the plural item as the final part of the list.

As a writer, it’s essential to learn about different grammatical concepts to help improve the quality of your content. The above advice will help you incorporate or avoid the Oxford comma in your future pieces depending on the preferences of your client, instructor, or employer.

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