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While writing a proposal at work today I needed to mention a list of things and within that list were multi-part items. It seems like replacing the comma with a semi-colon in this situation would make the sentence easier to understand, but is it correct usage?

With standard punctuation this could get confusing:

Some of my favorite things to do are camping, playing football and baseball, watching Laurel and Hardy Movies, and traveling.

Proposed alternative. Is this acceptable usage?

Some of my favorite things to do are camping; playing football and baseball; watching Laurel and Hardy Movies; and traveling.

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"With standard punctuation this could get confusing"--in what way? It seems perfectly clear. –  kajaco Sep 4 '10 at 14:38
    
@kajaco I was referring to the nested conjunctions. –  JohnFx Nov 10 '10 at 20:16
    
If you had omitted the serial comma, would you be "watching traveling"? Doesn't make much sense in this example, but what if someone thought it was a typo and misunderstood it as Traveling, a film or TV show? Anyway, in your first example, with the serial comma in place, the commas-only sentence is fine. The only commas are the list item separators. If there were extra different types of commas besides those list item separators, then I would use the semicolon, for example if you added nested conjunction lists of more than two items. –  XP1 Apr 12 '11 at 14:24

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The Chicago Manual of Style offers these pieces of advice:

6.21 Semicolons within series. When elements in a series involve internal punctuation, or when they are very long and complex, they should be separated by semicolons.

6.60 In a series. When items in a series involve internal punctuation, they should be separated by semicolons.

.

Is this acceptable usage?

Some of my favorite things to do are camping; playing football and baseball; watching Laurel and Hardy Movies; and traveling.

In the specific case of this example sentence, no it isn't, because the semicolon isn't really necessary. Try blowing it up a bit and the semicolon starts to be more useful:

Some of my favourite things to do are camping with my best friends in isolated, lonely woods; playing football, baseball, eating sausages, offering ridiculous advice on question-and-answer websites; watching Laurel and Hardy, Arnold Schwarznegger, or Sylvester Stallone movies, and travelling to the farthest-flung corners of the globe.

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Should you have added semicolons before each "-ing" word? The semicolons look inconsistent in the example. –  XP1 Apr 12 '11 at 14:13
    
Following up on previous comment: I can imagine playing football and baseball video games on question-and-answer websites, but eating sausages on websites is quite a stretch. –  jwpat7 Apr 2 '12 at 15:25
    
I agree with jwpat7. In fact, I'd probably punctuate the sentence like this: Some of my favourite things to do are camping with my best friends in isolated, lonely woods; playing football and baseball; eating sausages; offering ridiculous advice on question-and-answer websites; watching Laurel and Hardy, Arnold Schwarznegger, or Sylvester Stallone movies; and travelling to the farthest-flung corners of the globe. –  J.R. Jan 2 '13 at 16:14
    
Is there a reason why you didn't (/one shouldn't) put a semicolon before the final item in the list, beginning 'and'? (Here this is "and travelling to the farthest-flung corners of the globe".) –  tog22 Jan 13 at 9:47

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