Should a comma be put before the last item in a list?

The practice I've been following is not to insert a comma when the list consists of short items but use a comma when the list has complex items.

For example:
"Please contrast the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John."

"The focus of the stimulus bill is directed to infrastructure construction, extended unemployment benefits for the long-time unemployed, and increased funding for education."
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Should a comma be put before the last item in a list? The practice I've been following is not to ... the stimulus bill is directed to infrastructure construction, extended unemployment benefits for the long-time unemployed, and increased funding for education."

The one with the additional comma is generally referred to as the "Oxford comma"; it's a stylistic choice rather than a hard-and-fast rule.
The main problem revolves around ambiguity in certain lists. "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John" is clear enough, but "bread, tea and milk" could mean something different from "bread, tea, and milk".

I used to use a comma before "and" only when it was absolutely necessary to avoid ambiguity, but a few years ago decided to use it in all lists for consistency, and also to avoid possible ambiguity that I may have missed.

Cheers, Harvey
CanEng and BrEng, indiscriminately mixed
On 15 Feb 2009, C. Sowash wrote

Should a comma be put before the last item in ... benefits for the long-time unemployed, and increased funding for education."

The one with the additional comma is generally referred to as the "Oxford comma"; it's a stylistic choice rather than ... to use it in all lists for consistency, and also to avoid possible ambiguity that I may have missed.

I'm with Harvey. The OP can find plenty of prior threads on the same topic by searching Google Groups for "Oxford comma" or "serial comma". The AUE FAQ (from another group, but with the same topic as this one) has an entry at
.

Bob Lieblich
Been there, done that
Teachers: We supply a list of EFL job vacancies
On 15 Feb 2009, C. Sowash wrote The one with ... also to avoid possible ambiguity that I may have missed.

I'm with Harvey. The OP can find plenty of prior threads on the same topic by searching Google Groups for "Oxford comma" or "serial comma". The AUE FAQ (from another group, but with the same topic as this one) has an entry at .

There are some situations where the Oxford comma makes sense as a way of avoiding ambiguity. Now, if only I could think of a good example. The comma was curved, black, and was not the best possible example of an Oxford comma.
I'm with Harvey. The OP can find plenty of prior ... same topic as this one) has an entry at .

There are some situations where the Oxford comma makes sense as a way of avoiding ambiguity. Now, if only I could think of a good example. The comma was curved, black, and was not the best possible example of an Oxford comma.

What you've produced is sufficiently ungrammatical that no punctuation can save it. Delete the second "was" and you'll see that the comma fits just fine.
A classic example of omission causing an ambiguity, which is included in the FAQ item I cited, is a book dedication to "My parents, Ayn Rand and God." There are others in that same item.
It's damned near impossible to come up with an example in which omission of the Oxford comma averts an ambiguity, as opposed to the myriad situations in which such an omission creates one.

Bob Lieblich
Commas for sale
Should a comma be put before the last item in a list?

Yes (US Eng)
No (English English)
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
Should a comma be put before the last item in a list?

(snip)
No (English English)

Except in Oxford.
With best wishes,
Peter.

Peter Young, (BrE), Consultant Anaesthetist, 1975-2004. (US equivalent: Attending Anesthesiologist)
Cheltenham and Gloucester, UK.
Now happily retired.
On 15 Feb 2009, C. Sowash wrote

Should a comma be put before the last item in ... benefits for the long-time unemployed, and increased funding for education."

The one with the additional comma is generally referred to as the "Oxford comma"; it's a stylistic choice rather than ... consistency, and also to avoid possible ambiguity that I may have missed. Cheers, Harvey CanEng and BrEng, indiscriminately mixed

If I wasn't familiar with "Luke and John," I might ask, "what is the title of their book?"
"...the final comma is never wrong and it always helps the reader see the last two items as separate."
Should a comma be put before the last item in a list? The practice I've been following is not to ... the stimulus bill is directed to infrastructure constructio=n, extended unemployment benefits for the long-time unemployed, and increase=d funding for education."

As a general rule, I would use a comma there. I agree that a list of complex
items may actually require this comma. Consider four lots of cloth in the
following colors:
red
green
blue and white
yellow and black
GFH
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