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I was wondering which punctuation to use preceeding etc. in an enumeration with semicolons as supercommas (as formulated here: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon).

People with dichromatic colour vision will usually find it difficult to distinguish between similar tones and shades: deep red with black with dark green or dark purple; medium shades of red with similar tones of green and orange; etc.

Should I use a semicolon or a comma before the etc.?

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There is no mention of the word etc. in this other situation so it does not help. Etc. is a specific construct within a list, for example always requiring a comma preceeding it (according to Strunk) in a comma-seperated list, even when only preceeded by a single element. –  hadinbe Mar 18 '13 at 11:15
    
Thank you, that was an answer to my question. I did neither know that etc. was immaterial, nor that it would be considered as an element despite its immateriality. –  hadinbe Mar 18 '13 at 11:21
    
It is a simple list of 3 elements, not a complex list of 2 elements whose second element contains two subelements. The semicolons makes this much clearer than would the comma. –  tchrist Mar 18 '13 at 11:28
    
Thank you for your help. –  hadinbe Mar 18 '13 at 11:32

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

This is a simple list of 3 elements, not a complex list of 2 elements whose second element contains two subelements.

Case 1

  1. deep red with black with dark green or dark purple
  2. medium shades of red with similar tones of green and orange;
  3. etc.

Case 2

  1. deep red with black with dark green or dark purple
  2. medium shades of red with similar tones of
    1. green
    2. orange
    3. etc.

The semicolons make it clearer that case #1 applies than would the comma.

Contrast:

  • People with dichromatic colour vision will usually find it difficult to distinguish between similar tones and shades: deep red with black with dark green or dark purple; medium shades of red with similar tones of green and orange; etc.

  • People with dichromatic colour vision will usually find it difficult to distinguish between similar tones and shades: deep red with black with dark green or dark purple, medium shades of red with similar tones of green and orange, etc.

In the second version, it is far from immediately obvious that we are not talking tones of green, orange, and others. Using the semicolon makes this clear(er).

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