When to Use – And Not to Use – the Oxford Comma in AP Style

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AP Style is designed to minimize characters used, but clarity is always king.

Allison Carter, Ragan Communications

The serial comma is one of the most misunderstood parts of AP Style. Heck, no one can even agree on what to call it: serial comma, series comma, Oxford comma or Harvard comma.

Whatever you call it, take a look at that previous sentence. It’s the comma that isn’t there after “Oxford comma.” That’s because in AP Style, you don’t use a comma before the last item in a simple list. You may have been taught differently in your grade school English classes, or even had it drilled into your skull while following other rules like those in the Chicago Style Guide.

But AP Style, the system of choice for many communicators and journalists, does things a little differently. There are times when you’ll want to include that little squiggle – and times when you shouldn’t.

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In a recent Ragan webinar, Grammar Girl, also known as Mignon Fogarty of the Quick and Dirty Tips Podcast Network, shared tips for some of the quirkier parts of AP Style, including that tricky serial comma. You can watch the entire “Grammar Girl’s Beginning and Intermediate Guide to AP Style” webinar any time.

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