Even Oxford leaves out the Oxford comma sometimes

This is going to be controversial to some and has been a topic of debate among writers, educators, and those in the journalism, marketing and PR fields throughout my entire career and for more than 100 hundred years before.

The Oxford comma.

Like discussing Chevys versus Fords, Canon versus Nikon cameras, or Fender versus Gibson guitars, I’ve encountered a lot of passionate discussion around the Oxford, or serial, comma.

Unlike MLA, APA and Chicago styles, the Associated Press style—the standard style for journalism—does not use the Oxford comma. It sometimes still will be used in cases where its absence could lead to confusion or ambiguity, but by and large, you won’t find it in most newspapers or in magazines. Many marketing offices also align with AP style.

In keeping with the underlying tradition of the University of Minnesota's style practices, our editorial style recommends that communicators follow the Chicago Manual of Style online, except for what are judged to be news pieces, which should follow AP style.

The rationale for AP’s logic is deeply rooted in past practice and a time when print ruled because presses could save paper and space by not using the Oxford comma. Regardless, the debatable standard to not have a comma following the second-to-last item in a list of three items or more stands.

Are you ready for probably the most controversial part of this topic? The University of Oxford, which operates the Oxford University Press where the Oxford comma originated, also separates the comma’s required use from journalism and marketing, and the classroom.

Yes, from page 13 of the University of Oxford’s Style Guide, “There is no comma between the penultimate item in a list and ‘and’/‘or,’ unless required to prevent ambiguity—this is sometimes referred to as the ‘Oxford comma.’” And also from their web style guide, “Do not use a comma before the last element of a list (sometimes referred to as 'Oxford comma'). Write ‘training, development and leadership’ not ‘training, development, and leadership.’”

Now, I (Adam Hammer, Creative Services Director in UR) didn’t come here to debate. However I have always found it interesting that even if you go to the source, you’ll find differing standards on when and when not to use the Oxford comma. Even in 1905 when Horace Hart updated his style guide for Oxford University Press that required the use of a comma before the last item in a series (hence its name the Oxford comma), if you asked most other English presses at that time, they would say they don’t use it.

So as it has been for more than 100 years before and will likely be for 100 more, the debate over the Oxford comma continues.

If you have further questions about either style, simply start typing AP Stylebook or Chicago Manual of Style in the search bar on the Libraries website (you have free access as an employee!), or reach out to internalcomms@umn.edu.