Grammar Punctuation Usage

A cereal comma?

Q: I’ve noticed that the NY Times has changed its comma rule for punctuating words in a series. The paper now drops the comma before the last item. Example: “Cheerios, Fruit Loops and Rice Krispies.” This can be confusing. Any idea how the Times arrived at this decision?

A: As far as we know, this has always been the Times’s policy on commas. Like many newspapers, it doesn’t use a final comma before the last item in a series.

The paper’s most recent style guide (1999) says: “In general, do not use a comma before and or or in a series.” The Times’s policy was the same in the previous style guide (1976).

When the two of us worked for the Times, we naturally followed the rule. But we think, as you do, that the final serial comma (sometimes called the Oxford comma) is a good idea and aids in readability. We use it in our blog.

We’ve written postings in 2011 and 2010 on the subject. The latest one includes some speculation (not by us!) about why newspapers omit the serial comma.

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