oxford comma

This Punctuation Tip Could Save You Millions of Dollars

Content Marketing continues to gain momentum as one of the top ways for companies to reach customers. Whether it’s via a blog, social media posts, a white paper, or newsletter, authors of this content sometimes find themselves at the center of an age-old debate about comma usage. More specifically, whether or not to use an Oxford comma.

Most people I talk to have no idea what an Oxford comma is, but it’s probably something you should know more about because, without it, you could be at risk for the loss of thousands and even millions of dollars.

The Oxford comma is the last comma in a sentence that comes before the conjunction (for example: and, or) in a list. Traditionally it was used by printers, readers, and editors at Oxford University Press. Also known as a serial comma, series comma, or a Harvard comma it is often the topic of debate in English grammar and punctuation.

Here’s an example:


By removing the comma before “and” the sentence takes on an entirely different meaning.
We have then invited the rhinoceroi, named Washington and Lincoln.


According to Wikipedia, “In American English, a majority of style guides mandate the use of the serial comma, including APA style, The Chicago Manual of Style, The MLA Style Manual, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual.”

Imagine how leaving out the Oxford comma might affect your business, a special promotion you are offering to customers, or how your employees might interpret corporate communications.

The use of the Oxford comma may seem merely a cause for a laughable grammatical debate, but, Oakhurst Dairy in Portland Maine isn’t laughing. Due to the omission of an Oxford comma in a Maine employment statute, which created ambiguity for truck drivers, the dairy lost a lawsuit and paid drivers $10 million for overtime pay.

This isn’t the first time an Oxford comma has come into question and cost a company millions. In 2006, Rogers Communications of Toronto, Canada’s largest cable television provider, and telephone company, Bell Aliant, went to court over the phone company’s attempt to cancel a contract governing Rogers’ use of telephone poles. Due to a missing comma, Canada’s telecommunications regulator ruled that the comma allowed Bell Aliant to end its five-year agreement with Rogers at any time with notice, costing the company $888,000.

Another historical typo dating back to 1872, cost American taxpayers more than $2 million, or $38,350,000 in today’s dollars because of one misplaced comma in a tariff law.

Today, many attorneys even insist using an Oxford comma to deter ambiguity, because their use makes sentences more precise. So, debates aside, if you want to deliver a clear statement and avoid any misinterpretation of legal documents, use your Oxford comma. It could save you heartache and money in the end.

One of the best tools I have discovered to aid me in improving my punctuation and grammar is Grammarly. It’s a grammar checker that not only helps to eliminate most writing mistakes, but enhances your vocabulary, and checks for plagiarism. Check it out: www.grammarly.com.