Oxford comma

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When a comma is inserted before ‘and’ in a list of three or more items – as in ‘I bought bread, apples, potatoes, and cheese’ or ‘We visited Venice, Florence, and Rome’, it is known as an Oxford comma - so called because the use of a comma in this context is recommended in the style guide of Oxford University Press (see Hart's Rules). For similar reasons a comma used in this way is sometimes referred to as ’a Harvard comma’ - its use is recommended in the style guide of Harvard University Press.

Opinion is divided about the necessity or desirability of using the Oxford comma. Cambridge University Press, for example, is opposed to its use, and many follow its practice, while many are equally determined to defend their use of this comma. AWE, however, is relaxed about the issue and, provided the presence (or absence) of an Oxford comma is not necessary to avoid ambiguity (or absurdity), accepts that both positions are defensible. A cursory survey of AWE’s pages will show that some of its contributors use the Oxford comma and some do not.