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The way I understand it, you use the oxford comma when separating 3+ "items" in a list. Items, I assumes, are nouns. For instance, I bought a bat, a mat and a hat. Usually there would be a comma between "mat" and the following "and" but when using Oxford comma, there is none.

However, what if I was linking three clauses: I jumped, I hit my head and I cried. Should there be a comma between "head" and the following "and"?

Whether you say yes or no, are you guessing or do you have any reference to the rule? I have had no success finding any information on linking 3+ clauses. Thanks.

  • If you choose to use it in a list, then regardless of what the items are (i.e., nouns or noun phrases) use it consistently. If you use the Oxford comma in your first example, you should use it in the second too. – AIQ Nov 3 '19 at 21:55
  • @Jaysaul - You wrote "you use the Oxford comma when separating three "items" in a list." - it's three items or more. As for a 'rule', as AlQ says, the rule is, 'either use an Oxford comma, or do not, but be consistent'. Items don't have to be nouns. I like to hop, skip, and jump. – Michael Harvey Nov 3 '19 at 21:59
  • @Michael Harvey, thanks, that's what I wanted to know. I don't really know what noun phrases are (which AIQ mentions), but based on your response it seems if I'm using three verbs and it's okay to use the Oxfor comma there then I suppose other situations should be okay (as long as I'm consistent). – Jaysaul Nov 3 '19 at 22:33
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    Side note: you have the sense of the Oxford Comma reversed. You might be confused because including the serial comma is seen as standard in American usage, and eliminating it is usual in British usage, but Oxford in particular recommends it, hence its name. – Stobor Nov 3 '19 at 23:01
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    Oxford style recommends the use of the serial comma, that is, inserting the comma before the and. (This is also recommended by Chicago and Strunk & White amongst others.) – Stobor Nov 3 '19 at 23:02
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You seem to have it backwards - the Oxford comma is present when the comma between the penultimate and ultimate items in a list is /present/, not when it is not!

"This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand, and God." <- Oxford comma

"This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God." <- no Oxford comma.

This is a humorous example advocates of the Oxford comma use; the second sentence can sound like the author is saying her parents /are/ Ayn Rand and God - if read when expecting the Oxford comma.

If you are using the Oxford comma, "I jumped, I hit my head and I cried" explicitly indicates that the crying occurred with or because of the hitting your head. If you are not using the Oxford comma, it might have been unrelated in time or causally.

Using it or not is a matter of style, and people have VERY STRONG OPINIONS about it, but neither is more "correct". What /is/ important is that you are consistent - either use it or don't, everywhere. You can't switch back and forth - or you'll end up doing something silly like the above example eventually.

(If you are writing for a company, journal, or in a class - you may be told explicitly by a style guide or supervisor/teacher to either use or not use it. So, in that case, do whichever is required!)

  • Lastly I'll add this is an "erudite" distinction - formal communications, employers, copywriters, journals, etc - will care - but if you're writing a note to a friend or doing anything informal, most people will not even think about it. – BadZen Nov 25 '19 at 18:39

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