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I am wondering if I can use a list within a list. I know that the following sentence may seem as though it would be better if reworded, but I am using euphemisms and simplifications for what I am actually writing. I am trying to boil it down, so what you see below is just a microcosm of the sentence I am actually writing.

I went there because I was sad, lonely, foolish, and in need of shelter, love, and contentment.

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    Yes, but not at the cost of readability. So long as the reader can make sense easily, sure. – Kris Nov 23 '16 at 10:13
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    I think these are two lists next to each other. The first is a list of adjectives and the second is a list of nouns headed with a prepositional phrase. But the answer to either parallel lists or nested lists is: yes, but please write carefully. – rajah9 Nov 23 '16 at 14:37
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I have sometimes written lists inside of lists. I use semicolons. Here's an example:

This thing features A; B; C; an inordinate amount of i, ii, and iii; and paradoxically, D.

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition (2010), recommends pretty much the same thing:

6.19: Using semicolons instead of commas in a series. When elements in a series include internal punctuation, or when they are very long and complex, they may need to be separated by semicolons rather than by commas [cross reference omitted]."

Following this approach entails putting semicolons after each term in the primary list, and commas after each term in the secondary (embedded) list.

  • @SvenYargs - Any suggestions to improve my answer so that it might get your vote? – aparente001 Nov 27 '16 at 14:54
  • @SvenYargs - Thanks for explaining. I didn't have a reference. I sort of re-invented the wheel at some point in my life. Glad to hear my approach is backed up by a reliable authority! Please feel free to write an answer, you've got a great reference to include. – aparente001 Nov 27 '16 at 22:49
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"I went there because I was sad, lonely, foolish, and in need of shelter, love, and contentment." That is two lists. The speaker lists three states of feeling and then three perceived needs. This is not a list within a list if the final version states three feelings then three needs.

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That's a run on sentence, right there. Try this instead:

I went there because I was sad, lonely, and foolish. I was in need of shelter, love, and contentment.

If you have to ask whether it's going to work then read it out loud and make sure that it doesn't sound weird.

You could also try to experiment with parallelism, in those two sentences:

I went there because I was sad, lonely, and foolish. I went there because I was in need of shelter, love, and contentment.

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