Today’s grammar tip: The Oxford comma.
The serial comma, a.k.a. the Oxford comma, a.k.a. the Harvard comma – regardless of what you call it, I might fight you over it. Only kidding! . . . Kind of.
This topic comes from a request for clarification on Crowley Webb’s preferred style. We do use the serial comma. That means whether you’re writing an email, a proposal, or an internal memo, you should include a comma before the conjunction in a list of three or more items. (See what I did there with that list of three examples?!)
We use the serial comma to avoid ambiguity, illustrated by a couple of amazing classic examples:
- I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.
- We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.
However, certain situations call for us at Crowley Webb to drop the serial comma. Those are:
- When writing press releases and media advisories for the PR department
- When a client’s preferred style omits the serial comma
- When a serial list uses an ampersand
Let’s break down these three exceptions.
- The PR department uses AP style for press releases and media advisories, and AP style does not use the serial comma in most cases. For more-complicated lists, however, AP does suggest using the serial comma to avoid confusion.
- A few clients do not use the serial comma, and for them, we follow AP’s suggestion of employing the serial comma only if the phrases in the list are long or complex. If a client does not have a preference, we default to CW style and implement the serial comma.
- Chicago Manual of Style dictates that when using an ampersand in a list, we should not include the serial comma. We don’t often use ampersands (CW style prefers spelling out “and” instead), but we did once long, long ago . . . back in 2015. We used the phrase “Swing by for food, games & beers” on an invitation. As an alternative, we could do “Swing by for food, games, and beers” but the ampersand looked better in layout. We would not want to write “Swing by for food, games, & beers” or “Swing by for food, games and beers.”
Love it or hate it, that’s Crowley Webb’s stance on the serial comma.