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It seems somehow tricky to apply the right punctuation when it comes to the word namely. I got the following advice:

Search globally for "namely", and add a comma after it, as well as a comma, a semicolon, or a period before.

On the other hand, this link and this one suggest that there might be more to consider. So, what are the rules for punctuating around the word namely? Please try to prove your claims by including references.

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  • My intuition says that the only important thing is that the pause before namely is stronger than the pause after it--if there is one. By that logic, you should be fine with the global-replacement strategy
    – colinro
    Jan 10 '14 at 11:57
  • @colinro: But , namely, ... doesn't follow your rule (commas on both ends).
    – Dror
    Jan 10 '14 at 11:59
  • I concur, it is safe to insert a comma before "namely", that's what I mostly do. I found the following guideline(Rule 2): "It is preferable to use a semicolon before introductory words such as namely, however, therefore, that is, i.e., for example, e.g., or for instance when they introduce a complete sentence. It is also preferable to use a comma after the introductory word." I usually don't stick to this "preferably", and insert a comma before "namely" and omit it after.
    – Vilmar
    Jan 10 '14 at 12:02
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    @Dror That's fair, but I have two responses: - when I read the two-comma version I mentally pause longer on the first one. - That advice feels pretty marginal to me anyways. I understand that the two-comma way is fairly common, but I personally don't like it. I certainly don't think it is better than any of the other ways
    – colinro
    Jan 10 '14 at 12:05
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I don't think that any settled and widely accepted rule for handling "namely" exists, which makes the challenge to "prove your claims by including references" rather difficult. The link you provide to Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary is useful because it describes some of the numerous ways that people deal with "namely," including these:

—namely,

—namely [no back punctuation]

, namely,

, namely [no back punctuation]

But that source doesn't account for other possibilities, such as these:

(namely,

(namely [no back punctuation]

; namely,

; namely [no back punctuation]

: namely,

: namely [no back punctuation]

. Namely,

. Namely [no back punctuation]

As the contrasting comments and responses to your question indicate, people have very different preferences for punctuating "namely." I favor the —namely, option, which I like because it establishes a clean break from the wording responsible for the deficiency in identification that the words following "namely" are dedicated to supplying. Nevertheless, I can't claim that my preference is anything more than a preference.

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  • +1 even though ";" is also a good alternative, I tend to use dashes—I find them elegant and clear. As @SvenYargs says, "[...] it establishes a clean break [...]". Mar 8 '21 at 9:26
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Why not this: "We will have several people on hand at the trade show, namely: Bob, Steve, Sue and Jennifer."

If you are introducing a list, why not use a colon?

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  • Hi Sharon, welcome to EL&U. Using a colon is a great suggestion. Is there somewhere you might have seen it being used before? References are always good to include.
    – Adam
    Sep 21 '15 at 5:38
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The OED examples since the late 18th century are consistent: “namely” is followed by a comma. In broad terms, whatever follows it is [a list of] that which is then named/described/titled, etc. The list can be viewed as being in apposition to an earlier reference and this makes for the good use of a comma.

3.a. Introducing more detailed information or a particular example: that is to say, to be specific; to wit.

1798 G. Washington Let. in Writings (1893) XIV. 99 It would then have been understood as it is at present, namely, that the gentlemen would rank in the order they are named.

1855 A. Bain Senses & Intellect ii. i. 349 A third quality of sounds, namely, cadence or accent.

1875 A. Helps Social Pressure iii. 48 The worst and most disheartening point..is this namely,—that the course of modern thought and modern life is set against these improvements.

1934 R. Graves I, Claudius vii. 110 I have mentioned Julia's children..namely, her three boys, Gaius, Lucius, and Postumus, and her two daughters, Julilla and Agrippina.

1998 J. Irving Widow for One Year 442 He'd asked her to look for some important papers—namely, a codicil to his will.

That there is disagreement is fine. The essence of the punctuation after "namely" is to provide a slight pause. This is achieved also by the close synonymous phrases in the OED's definition, namely, “that is to say, to be specific; to wit.” Without doubt, the easiest way to do this is with a comma – everyone understands a comma. A colon or dash might work, but these tend to indicate a longer pause - this is useful if that is the way it was spoken or intended.

-2

'I was speaking to one of the staff the other day, namely Charles Golightly.'

'An expert in sleep apnea, namely Professor Mikhail Yizhinski, claims he has solved the problem.'

'One day last week, namely Tuesday, I met with the Chief Inspector.'

A number of people have signed up for the outing, namely; Smith, Boulting, Lawrence, Rawson...

These are some, perhaps not all, of the uses of 'namely'.

But I can't think of an example of where one would put a comma after 'namely'. By it's very nature 'namely' usually introduces a subordinate clause or a list. It is a bit like 'in other words'.

Hope this helps.

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  • 1
    The phantom down-voter is at their silent and scurrilous activity again!
    – WS2
    Jan 10 '14 at 12:46
  • In the first link I provided you can find examples with "comma after".
    – Dror
    Jan 10 '14 at 12:57
  • @Dror What link?
    – WS2
    Jan 10 '14 at 16:00
  • The first link in the OP.
    – Dror
    Jan 10 '14 at 16:02
  • @Dror. Well, in none of those examples, would I ever put a comma after 'namely'. The only exception is where you say something like 'As regards the word 'namely', how is it used.' This is where the word is simply the title of what you are discussing. One of their examples is a bit like that.
    – WS2
    Jan 10 '14 at 17:00

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