Study Materials

What Is The Oxford Comma?

In English, there is a wonderful punctuation mark – the Oxford comma (or serial comma). This is a special kind of comma, which is placed before the union “and” between homogeneous members of the sentence, that is, where it should not be.

Oxford comma meme

Take the sentence:

In the war against fascist Germany participated England, the USA and the USSR.

The written is understood literally: three countries fought against Germany, nothing is said about the degree of their participation. If you put the Oxford comma, the meaning of the sentence changes dramatically:

In the war against fascist Germany participated England, the USA, and the USSR.

Now the participation of the USSR in the war is singled out in a special way, separated from England and the USA.

And just a comma was put, not a word was added! One more example:

He bought tasty cheese, jamon, steak and water from the store.

In this sentence, the word “tasty” can refer only to cheese, or in general to cheese, jamon and steak. Water is unlikely to be tasty, so it stands out from the general row. In addition, the word “water” is feminine, and the adjective “tasty” is used in masculine – a typical problem of such constructions in Russian. If you use the Oxford comma, both problems disappear. Water is now separated from other products:

He bought delicious cheese, jamon, steak, and water from the store.

Finally, the third example, the most obvious:

I dedicate this book to my parents, Steve Jobs and God.

Without the Oxford comma, it turns out that the author’s parents are Steve Jobs and God. To get rid of ambiguity, you can use the union “as well”. But it’s much more interesting to do so:

I dedicate this book to my parents, Steve Jobs, and God.


– Why is it called the Oxford comma?
It’s known as the Oxford comma because it was traditionally used by printers, readers, and editors at Oxford University Press.
– When to use Oxford comma?
The Oxford comma is used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, before ‘and’ or ‘or’.” For example: “Today she went to the movies with her friends Batman, and Robin.
– Why the Oxford comma is important?
It’s important to put the Oxford commas because, in English, people also use “commas of direct address” to separate what they are saying from the person or object they are