I'm not a native english speaker. I have been taught in school that if you use a comma, you should not use and after it.

I went to university, my university teacher said the same and he said that if i don't follow that rule, I'll fail my Toefl exam.

I was reading the FAQ of a Stack Exchange site and I saw this:

Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers.

According to my teachers, it's a mistake; the sentence should be "Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers and aspiring writers."

Why was I taught this rule in the first place, and why does the Toefl mention it?

By the way, I have been taught the same rule in french; you should not use et after a comma.

  • The Oxford comma: The controversy rages on. – Jay Apr 25 '13 at 15:13
  • You should be aware that there are some sentences, and this is one such example, where the comma before the "and" is not optional. – Matt Apr 25 '13 at 15:30
  • @Matt why? can you explain? – Lynob Apr 25 '13 at 17:47
  • 1
    When the 'and' is the first word of an appositive clause (i.e. the comma is a clause-delimiter, not a list-delimiter) it is not an oxford comma, and is therefore non-optional. My previous comment is an example of such a use. – Matt Apr 25 '13 at 20:24

The difference is a matter of style (with some basis in avoiding ambiguity). If you investigate the term "Oxford comma", you will find a wealth of examples and relevant discussion.


Some popular style manuals recommend using the comma (sometimes called "the Oxford comma"), and some recommend omitting it.

My newspaper editor/reporter friends prefer to omit the comma. They claim that omitting the comma saves precious print space.

  • Yes, journalists tend not to use the Oxford comma (per their style guides and/or tradition), but style guides for academic writing recommend the use of it. – user6951 Jun 10 '15 at 19:15

In addition to it being a styling preference, your example is a specific type of sentence, a list. For lists, having the word "and" before the last item of the list makes it clear that it is the last item in the list. Having a comma there as well makes it clear that "professional writers" are different from "aspiring writers".

Using the comma this way is called the "Oxford" or "serial" comma. The Oxford comma is very common (and in fact recommended) in American English, however it is recommended not to use it in British English, which is the standard for ESL and TOEFL.

  • Interesting. As a Brit I always prefer using the Oxford comma. It just feels more natural---I pretty much always use it. – FakeDIY Apr 25 '13 at 13:07
  • As do I, but the current accepted standard set by British Council recommends not to use it. – Walter Apr 25 '13 at 13:53

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