The ‘Oxford comma’ is also known as the ‘serial comma’, or the ‘final comma’. The Oxford Dictionaries online http://oxforddictionaries.com/page/oxfordcomma explains that “the ‘Oxford comma’ is an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list”. It was given this name because it was “traditionally used by printers, readers, and editors at Oxford University Press”.
William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White in their book The Elements of Style, state that “in a series of three of more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.” A good example of this was in the final sentence of my first paragraph – “…printers, readers, and editors…”.
Would you put a comma before the word ‘and’ in a list? Writers and publishers tend not to use it nowadays. Graham King in Collins Improve you Punctuation advises that unless there is ambiguity in your sentence, you should avoid using it. Take a look at the following sentence to see if it makes sense:
“I made the following pies: rhubard and apple and blackberry.”
The sentence could be interpreted in different ways. If I made a rhubard and apple pie first and then a separate blackberry pie, the sentence could be written like the first example below. If, however, I made a rhubard pie first and then a separate apple and blackberry pie, then sentence 2 would be clearer.
- I made the following pies: rhubarb and apple, and blackberry.
- I made the following pies: rhubarb, and apple and blackberry.
My thoughts: I believe that whatever you decide to do, as long as it makes sense to the reader and you avoid ambiguity, then you will be safe.
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The Oxford Dictionaries online http://oxforddictionaries.com/page/oxfordcomma
William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White The Elements of Style, fiftieth anniversary edition (2009), USA
Graham King The Collins Improve your Punctuation, UK