English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Would a comma or semicolon correctly follow the word "Florida" below? I used the comma for the last city-state entry. Is this correct?

Mike Jones, 45, of Lincoln, Nebraska; Sandra Stevens, 42, of Memphis, Tennessee; and Rupert Falcone, 35, of Tallahassee, Florida, were arrested on charges of conspiracy and fraud.

And does a comma--instead of a semicolon--correctly follow "51" below?

John Smith, 25; Frank Jones, 44; and Amy Horowitz, 51, were all involved in the fraud.

share|improve this question
This is correct. You should use semicolons to separate items in a list that themselves contain commas. – onomatomaniak Apr 6 '13 at 7:32

This use of the semicolon is as a list separator when the items contained in the list themselves contain commas. (See GrammarBook rule 4 for semicolons.). For example, a list might read "lions, tigers, and bears" where the "," commas separate the list. But if the items in the list contain commas, then a semicolon is permitted as the delimiter. For example "New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; and Boston, MA."

Just as you would not have a comma at the end of the list, you would not put a semicolon after "51." For example, the correct punctuation is "Sally, Jane, and Anna went to dinner" and not *"Sally, Jane, and Anna, went to dinner."

share|improve this answer

Every semicolon you used in these examples should be a comma. And every comma you used is correctly used.

In other words, there should be ONLY commas in these sentences. No semicolons are required.

You might say this could lead to some confusion, and you would be right, but it is nevertheless correct. If you intensely felt the need to avoid this confusion, you might change the punctuation or the syntax. For example, you could put parentheses around the ages, instead of commas. This is not exactly standard usage, but it seems acceptable. You then, however, would still have some debate as to whether you would retain a comma after the parentheses.

No matter what you do, however, I reiterate that semicolons are pretty definitively not correct at any spot in these sentences as written.

share|improve this answer
Strange, John. I've always used semicolons as list separators when the list items contain commas. I don't have a Chicago manual handy to check, but I'm fairly certain this is a standard use. Certainly the online sources agree: e.g. grammarbook.com/punctuation/semicolons.asp – jbeldock Apr 6 '13 at 7:27
Nope, sorry, that just doesn't apply here. You're misinterpreting something about the use of semicolons, and I'm not sure what, but keep this in mind: You can't use a semicolon to separate the subject of a sentence from the verb. That's simply wrong. Try this: "George; and Harry; and Larry went to town." Would you write it that way? Absolutely not. But that is exactly what the example sentences are doing. If I get a chance, I'll try to go into what it is that's misleading you, but I promise you - believe me on this - those semicolons are flat out wrong. – John M. Landsberg Apr 6 '13 at 8:12
So is the comma (obviously not the semicolon) correct after '51', yes or no? Or do we omit the comma after '51'? Bo comma after '51', in this case, would look bizarre. Thank you. – whippoorwill Apr 6 '13 at 8:42
@whippoorwill You need the commas around 51 because that's a parenthetical insertion. – Andrew Leach Apr 6 '13 at 9:48
Further evidence of the semicolon delimiter abounds (for example, here at Purdue's OWL: owl.english.purdue.edu/engagement/…). (They use the same type of example I did, with a list of cities and states.) But nobody seems willing to START a sentence with such a list.... – jbeldock Apr 8 '13 at 22:44

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.