The serial comma is the comma placed immediately before the final conjunction (and, or, and nor) in a list of three or more items. I used one in the parenthetical in the previous sentence. Here’s another: Instead of spelt bread, I’d rather have ice cream, a donut, or cotton candy.
Should you use the serial comma? Well, that’s certainly a question that spurs heated debate. Some like to use the serial comma. Others are anarchists and refuse to use it.
The problem with not using the serial comma as a rule is that there are times when you have to use the serial comma for clarity:
I’d like to dedicate this book to my parents, God and Ayn Rand.
So why have a rule (don’t use the serial comma) if your rule must include an addendum: unless it’s needed. Sounds like a bad rule, to me. This is much more clear:
I’d like to dedicate this book to my parents, God, and Ayn Rand.
Newspapers, I hear, prefer to drop the serial comma whenever possible, for space reasons. However, here on Ricochet we don’t have space issues.
If you don’t want to use the serial comma, then don’t. There are often ways to construct a sentence without the serial comma that aren’t confusing:
I’d like to dedicate this book to Ayn Rand, my parents and God.
I think it’s easier to use the serial comma than to rewrite every sentence that otherwise would benefit from it. I also prefer the consistency of always using the serial comma.