I've read online that you should "use a semicolon between items in a list or series if any of the items contain commas," but all the examples I see of this have many list items that contain commas. So I wanted to know if a semicolon is needed on a list that only has one item that contains a comma. For example:" I love grapes, pears, which my mother loves a lot[;] and apples." Does a semicolon have to go after "a lot"? If so, I would appreciate a small explanation! Thanks. Also, I know some people are going to tell me to use parenthesis around "which my mother loves a lot" instead, but what if I didn't want to use parenthesis?
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Punctuation is a matter of style, and as such, you should be guided by your manual of style, perhaps the one you've chosen (say, the writing center at the University of Wisconsin), the one thrust upon you by your editor or your publisher or your thesis committee, or the one I like, the Chicago Manual of Style, which says
When items in a series are long and complex or involve internal punctuation, they should be separated by semicolons for the sake of clarity.
Is your list (technically composed of fruit and not including your mother's preferences) complicated enough to warrant a semicolon? And will adding a semicolon improve the clarity of your sentence? For instance, since a semicolon is also use to join independent clauses in the absence of a conjunction consider that
I love grapes; pears, which my mother loves a lot,...
might temporarily mislead your reader into expecting an ending that might look something like
... pears, which my mother loves a lot, are also good.
Since you want to use punctuation is clarify the syntax, choose one of FumbleFingers' excellent suggestions:
I love grapes, pears -- which my mother loves a lot -- and apples.
I love grapes, pears (which my mother loves a lot) and apples.
In a comment, FumbleFingers answered:
Use a semicolon between items in a list or series if any of the items contain commas. What that means is if any item in the list contains a comma, you must separate all items with semicolons. You can't just change your "list item separator" randomly within the list. But in practice for your context, the most sensible option would be to move pears to the end of the list (and the second most sensible thing would be to use parentheses or dashes round your relative clause; I don't see why you wouldn't want to do this).