Just like your elementary school teacher reminded you, “Don’t forget your punctuation marks!” However, she might not have let you know that some rules for punctuation are not very cut and dry. One example of an instance where the punctuation police might differ is the comma.
What do you think about the following examples? Which one is correct?
- Example A: Italy, Ireland, and France are in the European Union.
- Example B: Italy, Ireland and France are in the European Union.
Actually, both are acceptable, depending upon which rule you subscribe! Example A uses a “serial comma” (aka “Oxford comma”); whereas, Example B uses no comma.
If you need to know whether to use the serial comma or not, you should refer to which style of writing you choose (or are required to use for a publication or for class). The American Psychological Association (APA) subscribes to the serial comma (as do The Chicago Manual of Style, The Oxford Style Manual, and the Modern Language Association -MLA).
The general rule for the serial comma is that when you are using items in a series of three or more, place a comma before the coordinating conjunction (and/or).