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Inside the alley I found myself cornered by unpleasant sights: walls covered with cracks and peeling paint, storm drains clogged with moss, dumpsters overflowing with bags, cans, and rotten trash.

Inside the alley I found myself cornered by unpleasant sights: walls covered with cracks and peeling paint; storm drains clogged with moss; dumpsters overflowing with bags, cans, and rotten trash.

Inside the alley I found myself cornered by unpleasant sights. Walls covered with cracks and peeling paint. Storm drains clogged with moss. Dumpsters overflowing with bags, cans, and rotten trash.

Or maybe the three of them are grammatically correct in their respective contexts?

EDIT (based on dockeryZ's answer):

I think second example is right, regardless of the context. Explanation: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon.

  • It is recommended that questions refer to the research that you've done in trying to answer them. The first is the best. The second might be okay, but usually you don't use semicolons in lists unless the elements have commas that might lead to confusion (and your list does not have such confusing commas). Also, 'dumpsters' should not be capitalized there. The third is bad because most of what you have are sentence fragments. It might work in a piece of literature, but I'd advise against it. – GoldenGremlin Jul 20 '15 at 16:07
  • @Silenus Oh, you're right about dumpster. Fixed. As for the research, how should I do it? I'm asking here precisely because I couldn't think of a way of finding the answer on Google. – janoChen Jul 20 '15 at 16:15
  • You might have just searched for a guide to using semi-colons or something. The only reason I mentioned it is because I'm relatively new and I noticed some posters get fired up about it and will vote to close the question. – GoldenGremlin Jul 20 '15 at 16:17
  • Depends on who you ask. (And note that "Dumpster" should be capitalized if you're talking about one produced by the Dempster company.) – Hot Licks Jul 20 '15 at 16:23
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    Does any else think the first example would be improved by 'moss, and dumpsters?' And @EdwinAshworth I agree that the third is the most effective writing. – Ben W. Jul 20 '15 at 18:43
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The second one is more correct in my humble opinion, because it contains a list within a list. And in such situations, the semicolon is the way to go. It is used as a super-comma in this case.

The third one isn't grammatically correct at all. None of those subsequent sentences are actually (full) sentences. They all lack a verb.

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    I would have suggested this too, except that the list comes as the final element in the super-list and is not confusing at all. Aesthetically, I think the first is the better choice. – GoldenGremlin Jul 20 '15 at 16:19
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I would advise against your final passage in formal writing, as none of the sentences after the first are complete, but it could work in a narrative.

You could use the semicolon passage as a way to distinguish between your outer and inner lists (see the third bullet here), but since you only have that one inner list and it comes last, I'd suggest going with the first passage.

  • Not true. There is no true rule saying that sentence fragments may not be used in English (though many people have insisted that there is. But even they have been known to utter 'Hello', 'No' and 'On the table'). Obviously, confusing and/or excessive usages are to be avoided. The third variant works well as dynamic narrative. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 20 '15 at 16:28
  • @EdwinAshworth fair point, see edits – scohe001 Jul 20 '15 at 16:30
  • Adding 'grammatically' does not alter the situation. Sentence fragments are not ungrammatical per se. Have a look at what Nordquist says. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 20 '15 at 16:32

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