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Food like apples, oranges, and bananas, which are rich with vitamins, are delicious.

Is the sentence above grammatically correct? I know that the comma after 'oranges' is optional (I prefer to use one before 'and' in a list) and a comma always goes before 'which,' but something feels off to me. Should a semicolon replace the comma before 'which' or is a comma okay?

  • 1
    Don't use a semicolon. This is fine. You would use a semicolon for a much longer thought and list of items or for a subordinating clause. A semicolon should be used when the list is really separate from the rest of the sentence or when the subordinate clause is cohesive with the first part of the sentence. If you place a semicolon here now, the first part of the sentence is no longer complete. – Kace36 Jul 8 '17 at 1:21
  • There is a rule for using a semicolon within a list in which the list elements contain commas (see Rules for Using Semicolons, third bullet point). However, since you only have one clause that applies to the whole list, I would say the comma is fine. You could use em dashes on either side of the clause instead. – vpn Jul 8 '17 at 1:52
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I think you've mostly answered your own question:

a comma always goes before 'which'.

More rigorously, The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition, section 6.22) has

Nonrestrictive relative clauses are usually introduced by which (or who/whom/whose) and are set off from the rest of the sentence by commas [emphasis mine].

So yes, the sentence is correct (as far as CMOS is an authority) with regards to the comma in question. I can understand why the use of a comma to set off the relative clause might look "off" in such close proximity to a comma separating list elements—it could imply that the clause only modifies the last element—but there is no justification in CMOS for replacing any of these commas with semicolons. You might replace two with em dashes:

Food like apples, oranges, and bananas—which are rich with vitamins—are delicious.

But that arrangement still suffers from the appearance of having the relative clause only applying to the last element.

Alternatively, if you really want to keep the sentence in its current order and attempt to alleviate the ambiguity, you could break with CMOS and generally accepted usage, but you'd probably want to modify the same two commas:

Food like apples, oranges, and bananas; which are rich with vitamins; are delicious.

To me, though, that looks excessively contrived (but don't underestimate how much of punctuation theory is subjective!). I might suggest that you rewrite the sentence entirely to avoid the aforementioned ambiguity as well as another problem: It is difficult to discern the relationship you are trying to illustrate between a food's vitamin-richness and its flavor. Are all vitamin-rich foods delicious? Are there foods as similarly delicious as apples, oranges, and bananas whose vitamin-richness is irrelevant? Perhaps more context would make that clear, but it wouldn't hurt to rewrite the sentence anyway.

As far as grammatical correctness, you need to either change food to foods or the second are to is.

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"Foods like apples, oranges and bananas–which are rich with vitamins–are delicious.” Likely this is your best bet.

  • Welcome to EL&U. Please support your answer with references. – Rupert Morrish Feb 19 '18 at 19:46

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