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Anonymous:
Hello,

Does anyone know the rules for using a comma vs. a semi colon in a sentence such as:

The colors are: (a) red, (b) blue, (c) yellow.

and

The house has: (a) a roof, shingled, and blue color, (b) a kitchen with sink, range, and microwave, and (b) garage with cement floor, plasterboard walls, and electronic doors.

Should a semi colon be sued to seperate (a), (b) and (c) in either example?

Thanks,

Bob
Hi,

In every day writing, semi-colons are seldom used in lists. When they are, it is to avoid confusion between the list itemes. Here, I see no need for semi-colons, or even for the colons themselves. This is the style in which these examples would commonly be written.

The colors are red, blue and yellow.

and



The house has a blue, shingled roof, a kitchen with sink, range and microwave, and a garage with a cement floor, plasterboard walls and electronic doors. I don't see any confusion between the items in this list.



Semi-colon lovers may offer you a different opinion.

Best wishes, Clive
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Well, I'm not a semi-colon lover, but I don't hate them.

As Clive says, there's really little sense of confusion using strictly commas. But if you wanted to practice using them correctly in a list, you could do it this way.

The house has a blue, shingled roof; a kitchen with sink, range and microwave; and a garage with a cement floor, plasterboard walls and electronic doors.

(Although I think you meant an electric garage door opener, and probably not electronic doors, unless it's Bill Gates's garage or something.)
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Hello Clive and Grammar Geek,

Thanks for the feed back. I generally use semi colons sparingly. I have seen them used in a list when there were commas within the list. I am using the comma before the "and" because it is a formal document. Below is your example but in the format I am questioning:

Example a -- The house has a (a) blue, shingled roof; (b) kitchen with sink, range, and microwave; and (c) garage with a cement floor, plasterboard walls, and electronic doors.

Example b -- The house has a (a) blue, shingled roof, (b) kitchen with sink, range and microwave, and (c) garage with a cement floor, plasterboard walls and electronic doors.

Assume that there are even more commas in the list. Some would argue to use a semi colon to differentiate between the commas in the list vs. moving on the the next list. Others would argue for just another comma.

Under this circumstance, would you use just another comma (example a) or a semi colon (example b)?

Thanks Again,

Bob
New Member04
Hi Bob,

I thought about talking about that other comma (the one before the "and") which is known as the Oxford comma or serial comma, but did not because people here already have a problem about talking about issues that were not part of the original question. If I were writing the sentence, I would have used b) because I use the serial comma. It's purely a matter of style, but the rule you MUST follow is to use it all the time, or don't use it, but not to mix the style.

If you had more commas, then you could use a semi-colon, but you are also getting close to when you might want to use a bulleted list, as shown below.

The house has:

  • a blue, shingled room

  • a kitchen with a sink, range, new dishwaher, microwave, convection oven, and new cabinets

  • a garage with finished walls, an electric garage door opener, a painted cement floor, and plenty of storage

  • a fully finished basement with acoustic tile ceiling, paneled walls, and telephone and cable connections.
Another way to use the semi-colon in a list is if the list is of people, when each has a title and a company. For example: The panelists will be Mary Smith, CEO, WordSmith Enterprises; Theresa Gonzales, owner, Flowers as You Like Them; Marie Francois, research chemist, Davis Petrochemicals; and Barbara Anderson, chief architect, Foley & Grissom.
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Thanks Barbara,

How about if you have a long document with several sentences such as above.

Would you have a rule that says if there are no commas in the list, use commas to separate a, b, and c. But if the list has a lot of commas in each sentence, use semi colons to separate the a, b, and c.

Or, would you not mix them in the same document?

Thanks,

Bob
Yes, if the items in the list do NOT contain commas themselves, then use commas to separate them. But if the items in the list DO have commas, then you can use semi-colons to separate them. And if they are very comples

The rule about not mixing has to do with the serial/Oxford comma - the one before the and. If you want to use it, use it all the time.
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Thanks so much Grammar Geek and everyone. I think I have the idea now.

Much Appreciated,

Bob
Hi,

Personally speaking, I don't much like to read sentences that really just consist of lengthy lists. One approach is to format it with bullet points, as GG suggests, or to use some similar manner of layout.

Another approach is simply to use more than one sentence.

The house has a blue, shingled roof. The kitchen is equipped with a sink, range, and microwave. The garage has a cement floor, plasterboard walls, and electronic doors.

For myself, I find it much easier to absorb this information when it is presented this way.

However, it's a matter of personal choice, of course.

Best wishes, Clive
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