The Oxford Comma is Necessary, and Here’s Why

The Oxford comma is the highly useful and underappreciated punctuation mark, without which all lists of items would be hopelessly unintelligible. This comma is placed after the penultimate (almost-last) item in a list, right before the conjunction, and effectively separates the items in a list to reduce ambiguity. Not only is the Oxford comma aesthetically pleasing, it also serves the highly necessary function of creating distinction in lists, allowing the reader to distinguish each item from the next. In written contexts, especially, this is very important. Consider the case of appositives. An appositive is a word or phrase that is placed “in apposition”, meaning it is a phrase that adds to the subject or object of the sentence. And we all know that when we list things, we use commas to signal the individuality of the items we are listing. While the Oxford comma may not be important for speaking purposes, it is essential to differentiate between respective items in a list or an appositive in a sentence. For example, if I said, I invited my parents, Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama over for dinner, this would indicate that I invited four guests to dine with me. In the case of the missing comma, I would have said I invited my parents, Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, implying only two guests and causing the world to think that the Obamas are my parents! Due to the omission of the Oxford comma in this example, the sentence changes to mean that the latter two items in the list comprise an apposition, which simply refers back to the first item. If not for this highly necessary punctuation mark, then, we could never be sure which items in a list are distinct and which simply refer to previous ones. Because appositives and the Oxford comma must coexist within our language and within writing, this punctuation point is necessary to clarity and precision.