The Serial Comma


What IS the serial comma? Could it be a comma that stalks you in night, taunting and teasing you because you don't know how to use it?

The serial killer, erm, I mean COMMA ;-) is a comma that is used at the end of a list before the final item in the list.

For example: I like coffee, tea, and juice.

Simple, right? Of course! 8-)

You can also use it before a final “or” in a list:
Are you going to the park, the shops, or the grocery store?

You could even use it in the negative with “nor”.
So no matter how many items there are in the list, all you have to do is add a comma right before the final “and”. Here's a list to prove it to you: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, h, i, … t, u, v, w, x, y, and z.

Just imagine if the serial comma was left out of this next example: Among the people questioned were her two ex-husbands, Sasha, and Georgia.
If the comma went 'missing', then Sasha and Georgia would be the two ex-husbands. :-P

Instead they are meant to be two additional people that went missing along with the ex-husbands. If you ask me, it could be quite a scandal! :-P ;-)

Lists can get quite tricky − so you have to have your wits about you! 8-)

Fun facts about the serial comma:

  • It's used in the APA 6th ed. style guide.
  • It can also be called an Oxford comma or a series comma.
  • You can use serial commas to clarify meaning in your writing.
  • According to Grammar Girl, the “Oxford English Dictionary shows the first printed use of the term in 1978, although it’s likely it had already been been used among editors for at least a few years before it showed up in print” (http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/did-oxford-drop-the-oxford-comma.aspx). You can read more on the origin of the serial comma on Grammar Girl too.