View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. Comment
August 15, 2012

Former editor’s writing primer has converted me to the Oxford comma

By Dominic Ponsford1

Former local newspaper editor Frank Rawlins has written a handy primer which will be useful to all aspiring reporters and writers.

L is for Literature is available via Amazon, with more details available at

Here is his section on the ‘Oxford comma’ – which I have to say has converted me from a sceptic to a believer.

If you haven’t heard of it, the ‘Oxford comma’ is the extra comma that the vast  majority of people, and thus writers, don’t bother with. It is the comma that scholars and, some say, pedants like to use before the word ‘and’ in any list of more than two items: I ate fish, chips, mushy peas, and bread. Most people prefer: I ate fish, chips, mushy peas and bread.

Well … I am no scholar, although I confess readily to professional pedantry, but the OXFORD COMMA IS CORRECT USAGE. So there!

The anti-Oxford movement comes unstuck when a list can be ambiguous, as in:

The train will stop at Bicester, then Haddenham and Thame.

Content from our partners
MHP Group's 30 To Watch awards for young journalists open for entries
How PA Media is helping newspapers make the digital transition
Publishing on the open web is broken, how generative AI could help fix it

That is not three stations; Haddenham and Thame is the name of the station  after Bicester.

It gets even worse with:

The train will stop at Bicester, Haddenham and Thame and Princes Risborough.

Anyone unfamiliar with the area and its railway won’t know (UNLESS YOU USE THE OXFORD COMMA) whether there are four stations, or three with one called Haddenham and Thame, or three with one called Thame and Princes Risborough.

The correct form is:

The train will stop at Bicester, Haddenham and Thame, and Princes Risborough.

So, generally speaking, it is best to use a final comma in any list longer than two items. It is equally important to use the final comma in a list of actions. Look how ridiculous this is:

For exercise Mark liked to lift weights, swim and skate at Oxford Ice Rink.

Pardon? Has the ice melted?

This is better:

For exercise Mark liked to lift weights, swim, and skate at Oxford Ice Rink.


Topics in this article :

Email to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network