The Case Against the Oxford Comma

Here’s why this discretionary punctuation mark is overrated.

Laura Mondragón
The Startup
Published in
3 min readJun 25, 2019


Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

I’m going to get a lot of heat for writing this: The Oxford comma is overrated.

This discretionary punctuation mark has become a cultural obsession. Anyone who’s ever typed a sentence seems to profess their undying love for the Oxford comma. It’s a trope of dating profiles and song lyrics. It’s been the focus of lawsuits, and it’s at the center of one of the most contentious copy-editing disputes of all time.

This debate needs to die.

Declaring unconditional loyalty to an elective glyph is like wearing the same outfit every day: It’s not appropriate for every situation, and when it’s the wrong choice, it will cause you a lot of embarrassment.

Pick a side

In case you missed out on this grammatical wedge issue, the Oxford comma, also called the serial comma, is the comma that precedes the last element in a series (before the conjunction “and” or “or”).

With the Oxford comma: The American flag is red, white, and blue.
Without the Oxford comma: The American flag is red, white and blue.

Proponents of the serial comma say it’s essential for clarity; opponents say it’s unnecessary. You’re either Team Oxford Comma or Team Anti-Oxford Comma.

And that’s the problem. The division reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of punctuation’s purpose: clarification. The Associated Press Stylebook, which many top news organizations follow, has long said to omit the serial comma in a simple series (key word: simple). But overzealous Oxford comma fans (and well-intentioned copy editors) have misinterpreted this guidance to mean you should never use the serial comma.

Presumably, the AP Stylebook editors were tired of their entry being misconstrued. In 2017, they made an important clarification:

About commas, our guidance: The basic guideline is to use common sense. Punctuation is to make clear the thought being expressed. Most simple series don’t need a final comma for clarity. But if a comma is needed to make sure the meaning is clear, use the comma. Use a comma at the end of a series if an integral



Laura Mondragón
The Startup

Freelance editor of science, health, tech and academic content. Former copy chief at, and Proud mom of a 33-weeker.