The Serial Comma

Why do the two pictures in each set create different meanings?

The Serial Comma 1

The Serial Comma 2The serial comma (also known as Oxford comma or Harvard comma) is a comma that is used before and/ or in a list containing three or more items.

  • I like to eat nails, glass, and shoes.
  • I hate people who do not like to eat nails, glass, or shoes.

The serial comma is more commonly used in American English than in British English. The serial comma is a highly debated topic among grammarians – for every six proponents of the serial comma, you will find half-a-dozen opponents!

In some cases, the serial comma helps avoid ambiguity in a sentence. Let’s look at these examples to understand the importance of using the serial comma to avoid ambiguity.
The Serial Comma 4In this sentence, the serial comma is omitted. The comma that is used after the phrase the president’s two daughters suggests that the names that follow (Bill Clinton and George Bush) are the names of the president’s two daughters.


The Serial Comma 3In this sentence, the serial comma is used after Bill Clinton and this clarifies that the names that follow after the phrase the president’s two daughters are not the names of the president’s two daughters, but other individuals who attended the show.


The Serial Comma 6
In this sentence, the serial comma is omitted. The comma that is used after the cheerleaders suggests that the names that follow (Nick and John) are the names of the cheerleaders.


The Serial Comma 5In this sentence, the serial comma is used after Nick and this clarifies that the names that follow after the phrase the cheerleaders are not the names of the cheerleaders, but other individuals who were captured in the photograph.

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