Oxford Comma on GMAT

Take a look at this short video to understand how and when to utilize the Oxford Comma.

Oxford Comma

The Oxford Comma is a very useful and often overlooked punctuation, and you can expect to get a question or two that includes it, on the GMAT sentence correction. In this short video, we will cover what the Oxford Comma is, exactly, its role, and how to use it in a sentence, correctly.

What is an Oxford Comma?

Can you identify the Oxford Comma in the following sentence?

Jack plays soccer, tennis, and football.
The comma after the word "tennis" is the Oxford Comma. Let us explain further.

The Oxford Comma is the comma used before the last element in a list of 3 or more elements. It is marked by the use of "comma+and".

Let us elaborate on this point, through the following examples.

Example 1 - Jack plays soccer, tennis, and football.
You see, in this sentence, there is a list of three elements, "soccer", "tennis", and "football". The Oxford Comma is used before the last element listed here. If there were only two elements listed, then there would be no comma at all, and the elements would only be joined by an "and". However, in sentences such as this one, where there are three or more elements in the list, the Oxford Comma is used. For example, if we were to add another sport to this list, after football, the Oxford Comma would come before that last element. Take a look at Example 2, for a better understanding of this point.

Example 2 - Jack plays soccer, tennis, football, and cricket.

Let's take up another, slightly more complex example.

Example 3 - Lily is a fine singer, a skilled martial artist, and a practicing lawyer.
Here, the elements are "a fine singer", "a skilled martial artist", and "a practicing lawyer", so the Oxford Comma comes after the word "artist". Remember, if there were only two elements, such as "a fine singer" and "a skilled martial artist", we would not apply the Oxford Comma. Also, remember that the Oxford Comma is distinct from the use of the "comma + and" construction used to join two independent clauses. For example:

Example 4 - Jack has great soccer skills, and he is a great team man.
Here we have a "comma + and" construction, but it is not the Oxford Comma. The comma in this sentence functions as a semicolon, joining together two independent clauses.

Construction along the lines of, Jack has great soccer skills, he is a great team man. would be incorrect, as it is a comma splice. Thus, the "comma + and" construction is needed.

This article has deliberately been kept brief; for a more elaborate explanation, please refer to Experts' Global's Stage One Sentence Correction videos.

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