A sometimes online sparring partner of mine recently wrote:

Men (as opposed to women) have had a purpose that should serve us well should this new transhuman world ever actually materialize: We provide; we protect; we invent; we drive the engine of economies.

Normally, I wouldn't separate the items in a series after a colon with semicolons unless one or more of them included a comma of its own. But here the items are independent clauses, which makes me think that semicolons should be used, regardless.

So, what's correct?

  • Will, I'm not sure that the post you linked to does answer things. In those examples, the items on the list are either single words or phrases, but my question is about when the items on the list are independent clauses. If, instead of "we provide" it had been "the provision of goods", or, instead of "we protect" it had been "the protection of the innocent", then the list would be one of phrases, and I'd have to problem using commas. But "we provide", "we protect", etc. are independent clauses. But thanks anyway for taking a swing at it. That's more than most people did!
    – blsdaniel
    Dec 7, 2015 at 1:45

3 Answers 3


Let us consider inter se gravity of punctuation marks - full stop, colon, semi colon and comma. Full stop brings a complete stop, colon a momentary pause, semi colon a shorter pause and comma the shortest pause. It, therefore, follows that, in a sentence, after colon has been used, one has only two choices: use semi colon or use comma. So is true with the sentence cited by the querist.

In the question, as the items - "we provide", "we protect", "we invent" and "we drive the engine of economies" - are independent clauses and there is no conjunction in-between, they have been rightly punctuated with semi colons.

The only issue I find in the sentence is that the first clause - "We provide" - should not have used "W"; it should rather have used "w".

Hope the matter is clear now.


Think of it this way: to link independent clauses together in one sentence can be done with semicolons, but need not be if you use a conjunction (as I'm doing in this sentence). The fact that there happens to be a previous independent clause linked with a colon doesn't make a difference.

To say it another way: you can use semicolons to link independent clauses in a sentence (as I'm doing here); you can use commas, as long as there's a conjunction; you can break into separate sentences.

I don't have a reference to give showing that the colon doesn't make a difference here, but it seems logical. Best I can do right now.


If it is a list, use commas. The fact that the items in the list are all clauses is immaterial. They are list items, so you separate them with a comma.


  • We provide, we protect, we invent, and we drive the engine of economies.

The above example is how you would write it if you were to include a conjunction. In your example, however, you don't use a conjunction before the last list item, but that doesn't matter. If it is a list, you still use commas.


  • Red, yellow, blue — I think those are the colors we have available.

  • Jim, Jo, Ann stand over there. Jane, Emma, Susan stand right here.

It is both common and not at all ungrammatical for people to form a list and omit the final conjunction. The fact that there is no conjunction at the end of the list does not mean that it is not a list.

So here's what you have to decide:


If it is a list, which it appears to be, you would separate the list items with commas. You would only revert to semicolons if any of those list items contained an internal comma.

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