13

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.

3
  • "With standard punctuation this could get confusing"--in what way? It seems perfectly clear.
    – kajaco
    Sep 4, 2010 at 14:38
  • @kajaco I was referring to the nested conjunctions.
    – JohnFx
    Nov 10, 2010 at 20:16
  • 1
    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, 2011 at 14:24

1 Answer 1

14

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.

4
  • Should you have added semicolons before each "-ing" word? The semicolons look inconsistent in the example.
    – XP1
    Apr 12, 2011 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. Apr 2, 2012 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, 2013 at 16:14
  • 1
    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, 2014 at 9:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.