3.4 The Oxford Comma

The Oxford* Comma is often mistaken for a grammatical tool, but is more properly a stylistic one.  It should be used where it is appropriate to that purpose:

  1. Lists of items related to elevated matters, moral correctness, and upper-class cultural markers should include it.
    • The three cardinal virtues are Faith, Hope, and Charity.
    • Whilst at Fortnum & Mason’s, Aloysius purchased Earl Grey tea, oatcakes, and raspberry jam.
    • The living room contained an Axminster carpet, an upright piano, and a senile vicar in tweeds.
  2. Constructions regarding the vulgar, the tasteless and the reprehensible should not use it.
    • The man was convicted for stealing a television, a mobile phone and a car.
    • The trades union office was stocked with instant coffee, powdered milk and tea bags.
    • The televangelist said that women should be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.
  3. Sentences that are inherently unclear, or contain a mix of the profound and the profane, should be rephrased to avoid the issue.
    • I would like to dedicate this book to my parents, and to acknowledge Ayn Rand and God for their influence on its composition.
    • In addition to the Telegraph, the newsagent sold copies of the Sun and the Daily Mail.

* More properly, the Shrewsbury comma, since its use at Oxford University Press is derived from the style guide introduced at that College.

One comment on “3.4 The Oxford Comma

  1. fledgist says:

    My parents, Ayn Rand and God, have very strong feelings on this issue.

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