If there is a page that deals with the use of napkins and wine glasses, can the heading be "napkins; wine glasses"? Do you think it's customary to use the semicolon in this way?

I'd appreciate your help.

  • 1
    I'd head-it-up thus: Napkins & Wine Glasses. Ditch the semicolon; it doesn't work. – Peter Point Oct 30 '16 at 3:38

Using a semicolon to separate items in a list is usually reserved for when those list items themselves contain commas. Otherwise, for listing items you would want to use a comma or a word like "and".

With a semi-colon, one of its other uses is to separate a phrase from an alternative of itself, for example:

"Today we are discussing the proper placement of dishware and cutlery; the finer points of catering."

The semicolon indicates that the second phrase (on the right of it) is meant as a restatement, or alternative statement, in relation to the phrase(s) on the left of it (the first part of sentence).

Using a semicolon in "napkins; wine glasses", could be misread as (or seem to ignorantly be) suggesting that "wine glasses" and "napkins" are alternative phrases with a common/shared meaning.

It could be seen as "napkins -- i.e., wine glasses".

But, again, if you have a list with commas, like authors in a publication, you could very well use a semicolon instead of a confusing amount of commas:

[Einstein1934] Einstein, Albert; Lovelace, Ada; Clause, Santa; "Getting from Here to There in an Instant: A Programmatic Means of Subspace Teleportation (a.k.a., Emojis for Christmas)", The Journal of Bette' Metaphysics, Vol. 19, No. 2, June 1934, NY, USA

  • "Today we are discussing the proper placement of dishware and cutlery; the finer points of catering." would seem more natural with the semicolon replaced by a colon or dash? – Apollyon Oct 30 '16 at 14:25

It is a journalistic standard to separate list items in headlines with commas.

In literature, the standard is to separate list items as one would in normal writing, but with the last item marked by an ampersand (&) symbol instead of the word "and".

So, to answer your question, it is not customary to use the semicolon that way.

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