Select Page

I dedicate this post to my colleagues, Stephen King and JK Rowling.

The serial, or Oxford, comma is often misunderstood even by native speakers. It is the most partisan of punctuation marks – some love a comma before the final conjugation in a list of three or more items, some seem to irrationally hate it.

Take this sentence describing my breakfast:

With the serial comma: I had eggs, toast, and orange juice

Without the serial comma: I had eggs, toast and orange juice

Both are easy enough to understand – no confusion there. But look at my dedication above. Do we number Stephen King and JK Rowling amongst our excellent writers at Tenfour? Without the serial comma it’s unclear. With the serial comma – I dedicate this post to my colleagues, Stephen King, and JK Rowling – it is explicit that Stephen and Joanne (we’re on first name terms, natch) are sadly not part of our copy team.

So should you use the serial comma in your writing?

Generally yes, for US English, and no for British English. There are exceptions to this rule – some style guides go against the local consensus on both sides of the Atlantic and sometimes, as above, it’s necessary to use it or not for reasons of clarity.

One last note: if you’re put in the position of explaining the serial comma be careful of the examples you use. Serial comma use can cause outrage.

You know what else can cause outrage? Using too many exclamation points!!! Check this post to see if you’re getting too emotional.