Posted by: Jack Henry | June 13, 2012

Editor’s Corner: No comma drama

Some know it as the “Oxford comma,” others call it the “Harvard comma,” but outside of these universities we little people call it the “serial comma.” This tiny speck has led to much debate among writers, editors, and other word nerds around the world.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, it is the comma that precedes the word “and” in a series. In the following example, it is the comma after “singing” and before “and.”

John likes fishing, singing, and bowling.

Most style guides, including The Chicago Manual of Style, recommend the use of the serial comma because it prevents ambiguity; however, The Associated Press Stylebook, the style guide used by many newspapers, magazines, and our Marketing department, is an exception. The AP Stylebook essentially tells writers not to use the serial comma, unless “an integral element of the series requires a conjunction” or “before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases.” I say, make it easy—use the serial comma. As Bryan A. Garner says in his book Garner’s Modern American Usage, “Whether to include the serial comma has sparked many arguments. But it’s easily answered in favor of inclusion because omitting the final comma may cause ambiguities, whereas including it never will.”

Not sold on making that extra keystroke? Below is an example from The Chicago Manual of Style that demonstrates what can happen without the serial comma. I rest my case.

“Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.”

Kara Church | Senior Technical Editor

Symitar, A Jack Henry Company

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123


  1. […] Oxford comma (aka the serial comma). One of the first articles I wrote was about six years ago, “No Comma Drama.” A couple of years after that, I continued to fight, this time in “Comma […]

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