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

If I am asking a complex question, I would write it like this:

Do you have, by chance, three pennies on you?

Should I write a complex question that turns into a list without the comma?

Do you have, by chance:

  • 3 pennies?
  • 2 shillings?

or like this

Do you have, by chance,:

  • 3 pennies?
  • 2 shillings?
share|improve this question
Related, but probably not a strict dupe: How to punctuate lists in general? and How should lists of questions be punctuated? – MrHen May 13 '11 at 17:44

First of all, a complex question is something different from the sense I think you mean it here.

complex question A fallacy in which the answer to a given question presupposes a prior answer to a prior question.

Second, in a list following a parenthetical expression, you are entitled to precede the list with a comma.

Do you have, by chance, three pennies on you?

It is not necessary to add bullet points or use a colon or whatever. You can make lists with this, but they are not necessarily better than your first instinct.

share|improve this answer
Would it be more "complex sentence as a question"? – burnt_hand May 13 '11 at 16:26

You never need a comma and a colon back to back.

Do you have, by chance:

3 pennies?

2 shillings?

Seems like the way to go, to me.

share|improve this answer

Of the two, choose the first one: a colon without a comma. A list of items is a distinct construction with its own rules, so you don't need to replicate the structure of a conventional sentence.

share|improve this answer

Of course not, and the reason is simple:

When you start a list you use only the colon, and since you can't (except in other few cases) use two punctuation signs next to each other, the comma disappears.

share|improve this answer
You can't use two punctuations signs next to each other!? Oh, no!! – phenry May 13 '11 at 16:21
@phenry: What's wrong? If you have something interesting to say, say it. Otherwise, restrain yourself from commenting. – Alenanno May 13 '11 at 16:28
@Alenanno: It was just a joke. I'm sorry if you didn't find it amusing. Try being less thin-skinned. – phenry May 13 '11 at 17:43
@phenry: It didn't sound friendly at all, try making better jokes next time. :) – Alenanno May 13 '11 at 17:54
@Alenanno: I am gratified to see that at least one other person disagrees with you. – phenry May 13 '11 at 18:17

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.