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I have a list of classes (titles) which have colons as a part of the titles, in this list should I use commas or semi-colons to separate them? (there are no items which have commas internally to them)

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Given that at least some of the entries in your list contain embedded colons, I agree with Benubird that—if you want to present the list as part of a normal sentence layout—you need to introduce special punctuation marks (specifically, quotation marks) to clarify each entry in its entirety.

For instance, suppose that you want to talk about the following four classes:

English 323: Victorian Lycanthropy

Cultural Anthropology 212: TV Watchers of Southern Indiana

Biology 316: Our Friends the Protozoa

Economics 202: How Are You Going to Pay for This?

Obviously one way to present the list is the way I just did—as an unnumbered list. Or you could add bullet points before each entry. But if you want to run the list as part of a normal-looking paragraph, rather than breaking it out as a series of single-line entries, your best bet is to identify where each entry begins and ends by putting each class name into quotation marks (the way I show it below is standard U.S. style; standard UK style, I believe, uses single quotation marks and puts the commas outside the end quotation marks):

Four classes that appear to be especially popular this semester are "English 323: Victorian Lycanthropy," "Cultural Anthropology 212: TV Watchers of Southern Indiana," "Biology 316: Our Friends the Protozoa," and "Economics 202: How Are You Going to Pay for This?"

The quotation marks clearly indicate the names of the various classes, thereby avoiding any possibility that the colons might be read as anything other than internal punctuation in the various class names. Under the circumstances, you don't need anything stronger than commas to connect the entries in the series, although you could use semicolons (outside the quotation marks, in normal U.S. style) instead of commas if you wished.

If you don't add quotation marks to the entries, neither commas nor semicolons (in my view) are strong enough to immediately clarify where one entry stops and the next begins.

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You should use commas or semicolons as appropriate, irrespective of the contents of the list text. If you are concerned about how it appears, then you can choose another layout format (for instance, bullet points, which do not need to be terminated with punctuation) or wrap the text in quotes. For example:

"item 1"; "item 2;with;semicolon"; "item 3"
  • Yes; the perceived weight of a colon can really confuse when it's being used essentially merely as part of an item in a list. Reformatting is needed. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 22 '14 at 22:16
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I agree with @Sven; his example seems valid:

Four classes that appear to be especially popular this semester are "English 323: Victorian Lycanthropy," "Cultural Anthropology 212: TV Watchers of Southern Indiana," "Biology 316: Our Friends the Protozoa," and "Economics 202: How Are You Going to Pay for This?"

I am offering another, perhaps equivalent, example:

Four classes that appear to be especially popular this semester are: "English 323: Victorian Lycanthropy"; "Cultural Anthropology 212: TV Watchers of Southern Indiana"; "Biology 316: Our Friends the Protozoa"; "Economics 202: How Are You Going to Pay for This?"

This demonstrates that either way is acceptable which is what @Benubird suggested.

  • Comma or semicolon, I would still have “and” before the last entry. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 24 '14 at 6:52

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