Why We Need The Serial Comma: 10 Hilarious Real-World Examples

Is it the serial comma or the Oxford comma?

There is a ferocious grammatical debate over whether a comma should go before the final conjunction in a series of three or more elements. It is the difference between “Bring hot glue, an icepick and a hairnet” and “Bring hot glue, an icepick, and a hairnet.” (Note: we have no idea what’s about to go down for the person saying this sentence.)

This special comma is known as the serial comma or, sometimes, the Oxford comma. If you are at all familiar with Vampire Weekend, you know they aren’t fans of this punctuation mark. But we here at Dictionary.com, and other proponents like us, happen to like this little comma (sorry, Vampire Weekend). For us, this mighty comma is a much-appreciated tool in our never-ending quest to convey meaning as clearly as possible.

Still not convinced? Take a look at these hilarious examples of real-world sentences that are sorely missing a serial comma.

OK, this freewheeling headline forgoes all punctuation ... and may just prove the point that commas in general are needed, but technically it is missing a serial comma too!

The result is a troubling scenario: Rachael Ray’s family and dog are on the dinner table, presumably garnished with parsley.

It was a whirlwind romance.  

In this example from Pottermore, we see that the serial comma would have helped clarify Harry Potter's conundrum.

The show must NOT go on if Harry is both Papa and Hubby to his kids. That's a twisted plot line we didn't see coming.

The lack of a serial comma here presents two possible interpretations (both befuddling): Catherine is holding both her daughter and the Queen, two separate entities that are competing for lap space, or Catherine is holding her daughter who happens to be the Queen!

Surprise, Elizabeth!

The above sentence, "This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God," was surely meant to honor three distinct entities (the author's parents, Ayn Rand, and God). But the comma placed after parents invites a new interpretation in which the author is the lovechild of a divinely unique partnership. 

We're not sure who authored this dazzling dedication (some argue it may be apocryphal), but it's a great teaching tool either way!

Sometimes when a serial comma is not used, the elements following the first comma can appear to be elaborations of the first element.

This illustration is from a video by the ad agency Muhtayzik Hoffer calling for the use of serial commas. Without them, Gram and Gramps seem like dog grandpawents (groan). Maybe there’s some crazy canine genes in this family?

This oft-cited example implies that country music legend Merle Haggard was once married to the lead of the 1970s version of A Star is Born (Kristofferson) and the consigliere to the most famous mafia family of the big screen, the Corleones (Duvall). That's an intriguing love triangle.

The sentence appears to have come from a caption in a newspaper describing a movie about Haggard's life.

A missing serial comma turns one of the most courageous, inspirational world leaders into an ancient hocus-pocus character with an, er, interesting hobby. 

Not to Nelson Mandela! Never to Nelson Mandela!

Now, this should be interesting. A man’s “prepubescent best friends” are a drug dealer and a male sheep (finding a tux will be a breeze).

When did the groom befriend his best ram?

The lack of a serial comma implies that orphans in Instagram are going to receive Christmas cheer, all thanks to you!

To enter the giveaway, all you need to do is find Instagram on a map.

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