Blog - Proofreading and Copy Editing

Serial Comma

The serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma due to it being common in Oxford publications, is the comma that comes before ‘and’ or ‘or’ in a list of three or more items:

I ordered stuffed vine leaves, olives, and feta cheese.

She couldn’t decide whether to get angry, laugh, or cry.

Whether or not you use it is up to you. As always, you should choose one style and apply it consistently.


It may, however, be necessary on some occasions to use it. Some lists can be ambiguous:

I bought a red and green dress, a black and white T-shirt, and a purple polka-dot skirt. 

The counties of Northumberland, Durham, and Tyne and Wear are in the north of England. 

In the second example above, Tyne and Wear is one county not two; the serial comma shows this.


Finally, always remember to be careful with lists; the items in the list should relate to the start of the sentence:

I felt hungry, tired, and needed a break.

When you break this down, you see that it doesn’t work:

I felt hungry (yes)

I felt tired (yes)

I felt needed a break (no)

Therefore, it should read as follows:

I felt hungry and tired, and needed a break.

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