2 minute read.

When to use the oxford comma

As someone who writes copy on a regular basis, I like to think I have a relatively good grasp of spelling and grammar, or as my 6 year old calls it, SPAG. However, there are occasions when I have to refer to my well-thumbed books of English grammar rules, just to check, just in case…

But what do I do when a client amends some copy I’ve written and the amendments are grammatically incorrect or they make the meaning of the sentence unclear? Is the client always right? Should I accept the given amendments or reply with an explanation of why the suggestions are incorrect. After all, I don’t want to embarrass the client and /or look like a pompous Stephen Fry QI like character, do I?

I feel that as a supplier of marketing services, it’s my job to nurture the reputation and image of my clients both on and offline. I can’t knowingly allow them to print documents or post online content that is littered with inaccuracies.

I had a recent situation where this happened and some simple re-ordering of a sentence saved everyone embarrassment. For you grammar geeks out there, I used the Oxford comma.

This is an optional comma that can be placed before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list:

We sell books, DVDS, and magazines. It’s known as the Oxford comma because it was traditionally used by printers, readers, and editors at Oxford University Press. Not all writers and publishers use it, but it can clarify the meaning of a sentence when the items in a list are not single words:

These items are available in black and white, red and yellow, and blue and green.[i]

But when I use this little known grammatical tool, I often find my clients question its inclusion. Simple re-ordering of words can often avoid a situation where the Oxford Comma is required to clarify meaning and avoid this situation. Here’s an example;

I love my parents, Gordon Ramsay and Joanna Lumley.
I love Gordon Ramsay, Joanna Lumley and my parents.

See, now you clearly understand I’m not the lovechild of a angry chef and a 60s icon.



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