I want to write a sentence that has a list of descriptive terms and then names, but I'm unclear as to how to do it...

Herman my brother, George my nephew and I went to the market.

If I put commas between Herman and my brother then it can be understood that someone named Herman as well as whoever my brother might be were going to the store with me. There are three people going to the market in the sentence above, not five.

What's the correct way to punctuate this to make it clear that Herman is my brother and not just one of the five people heading out?

5 Answers 5


Ignore the people telling you to re-write. Punctuation is part of writing, and there's a wonderful punctuation mark waiting on your home row right now that's eager to help out: the semicolon.

Herman, my brother; George, my nephew; and I went to the market.

Semicolons aren't just for related sentences like this one; they're also the fall-back list separator for when the list items themselves include commas.

As a child I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Sword of Shannara; and A Wrinkle in Time.

  • Thanks! I was wondering that very same thing. I appreciate not having to use a bunch of parenthesis. Dec 11, 2013 at 6:26

Adding more punctuation will complicate the sentence and make it harder to read. To keep it simple and keep the construction parallel you can just say, "My brother Herman, my nephew George, and I went to the market."

  • I appreciate the advice, but I'm not asking about the best way to formulate the sentence (it *is an awkward sentence, but that's because I just whipped it up to illustrate my question, I'm sure given a moment I can come up with a more natural example that still suffers from the same problem). So, I think I have my answer now; to use semi-colons as list separators. Dec 11, 2013 at 6:29

You could always use brackets.

Herman (my brother), George (my nephew) and I went to the market.

  • This is what I was after. I understand how to rephrase the question for clarity, but I wanted to know what the right punctuation would be if I had to use the formulation of the question as stated. Thanks all. Dec 10, 2013 at 18:19

This is tricky to make both unambiguous and natural and mellifluous.

Both Ingmar and James’ suggestion make the sentence unambiguous, but they also make it flow somewhat clunkily, since “I went”, with its very short subject and verb, ends up detached, as it were, from the rest of the sentence.

To preserve both unambiguity and naturalness of the sentence as a whole, I would recast it thusly:

I went to the market with my brother Herman and my nephew George.

This is of course not merely employing punctuation as was requested; but I think unfortunately the answer is that punctuation alone will not allow you to phrase this both unambiguously and mellifluously.

  • Thanks for that edit, @Reg. Biggest drawback of typing on a phone: it never knows the difference between its and it’s! Dec 10, 2013 at 16:02

Reword to make unambiguous: Herman, who is my brother, my nephew George and I went.

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