How do you read this sentence?
Time to eat Sandy!
The assumption is that you are reading it as though you’re literally going to eat someone.
It should be rephrased as: Time to eat, Sandy!
Notice the difference?
The history of the Oxford Comma goes back to when it was traditionally used at the Oxford University Press by printers, readers, and editors. Also known as the Serial Comma, it is the final comma in a list of things, and is meant to clarify order and meaning.
Here is a much simpler example:
We need to buy milk, eggs, and bread.
In some cases, the Oxford Comma is stylistic, meaning that you might not being using it in the style you are writing in. If you are writing in AP Style, you don’t need to use a comma at the end. Generally, it is up to you but if you omit using an Oxford Comma, make sure that your sentence isn’t confusing or hard to read.
For the fun of it (another example):
Top Stories for the Summer: Beer Gardens Open, School's Out and Heat Stroke!
Without the oxford comma you are stating that "School's Out" and "Heat Stroke" are the names of beer gardens.
The end of the school term is associated to heat stroke. This is not a very positive image for your audience, especially if you’re a parent.
Oxford Comma Opposition & Alternatives:
If you oppose using the oxford comma, you can re-write or rephrase the sentence instead:
Top Stories for the Summer: School's Out, Avoiding Heat Stroke and Beer Gardens are Open!
By reordering and adding a few extra details your reader has a clear understanding of what's going on.
Sound simple enough? Then let's try some Atomic Exercises:
Should you put an Oxford Comma in the following phrases?
- I love eating, ducks and shoes.
- Don’t skip, walk and run.
- What we actually need are stickers, posters, cards and tape.
- Going fast is fun, exhilarating and terrifying all at once.
- I high jump, trampoline and dive.
In some instances, there is a clear distinction between the previous items and the last. We recommend using the Oxford Comma, rather than omitting it entirely. It provides a short break for the reader so that they can identify two separate items, instead of accidentally mixing the two. Generally, there is no "hard and fast" rule to using oxford commas at the end of a phrase, but if you’re writing an academic paper just be sure to follow the guidelines.
What are some fun phrases you can come up with omitting the Oxford Comma? Share your thoughts in the comments!