Commas: Oxford or serial comma

By Mary Morel

Reader’s question: Where do you stand on commas before and in a sentence? For example:

He is a talented rower, skier, and footballer.

Answer: Such commas are known as the Oxford or serial comma.  I don’t think you need an Oxford comma in the example you have given.

The Oxford comma is an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list.

They are useful to prevent confusion, for example, to indicate that two items within a sentence belong together.

They should seek the support of landholders, philanthropists, government, and community and industry groups.
We took tomatoes, cottage cheese, and pepper and salt.

An urban myth tells the story of a woman who left her estate to Jane, William, Mary and Anne.

Jane and William argued that the estate should be divided into three, with Mary and Anne sharing a third.

Use of an Oxford comma (Jane, William, Mary, and Anne) would have prevented this dispute.

Online grammar programs

Learn more about punctuation with my online course, An A to Z  of Punctuation ($A39)

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