I must admit that I don't use semicolon lists very often. (In some instances, I probably should have.) I will also admit that I'm neither-here-nor-there with the use of an Oxford comma. Sometimes I use it and sometimes I don't, depending on how clear I think my sentence is without it. (I suppose I default to not using it, as is (ironically) the British/Australian custom.)

But I couldn't seem to find a definitive answer on this site for whether there is a semicolon version of the Oxford comma. That is, in Commonwealth English, do semicolon lists go:

Blah blah blah; so and so; and yada yada yada


Blah blah blah; so and so and yada yada yada

or (in the case of potential ambiguity?):

Blah blah blah; so and so, and yada yada yada

I found these two sources, one British and one presumably American.

bristol.ac.uk (British)

In complicated lists.

The semicolon can be used to sort out a complicated list containing many items, many of which themselves contain commas.

Have a look at this example:

In the meeting today we have Professor Wilson, University of Barnsley, Dr Watson, University of Barrow in Furness, Colonel Custard, Metropolitan Police and Dr Mable Syrup, Genius General, University of Otago, New Zealand.

In a situation such as this, only the mighty semicolon can unravel the mess.

In the meeting today we have Professor Wilson, University of Barnsley; Dr Watson, University of Barrow in Furness; Colonel Custard, Metropolitan Police and Dr Mable Syrup, Genius General, University of Otago, New Zealand.

^ As seen, no ; and is used.

grammar-monster.com (American)

Look at this list:

  • John
  • Simon
  • Toby

This list would be written like this: John, Simon, and Toby.

Now look at this list:

  • John, the baker
  • Simon, the policeman
  • Toby, the architect

This list would be written like this: John, the baker; Simon, the policeman; and Toby, the architect.

^ As seen, ; and is used.

Furthermore, the British example lacks an Oxford comma in the non-semicolon list, and the American example contains an Oxford comma in the non-semicolon list.

  • In a word, yes. If I find a source I'll answer.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 10:07
  • 3
    To quote your first source, "The semicolon can be used to sort out a complicated list containing many items, many of which themselves contain commas." This being so, it seems madness not to include the final, "Oxford" semicolon in such a list; the case for it is surely even stronger than for the Oxford comma. If it is indeed necessary (as it seems to me), and is not a matter of personal style or preference, like the Oxford comma arguably is, then it needs no special name. That might be why we don't hear anyone talk about "the Oxford semicolon." Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 21:56
  • 2
    I came across an example of a final comma in an otherwise semicolon-separated list, in a writer I respect (John Stewart Collis's Leo Tolstoy, here quoting Tolstoy's Diary); I cannot say I condone it: "He [Tolstoy] would employ two years in the country in studying 'the entire course of jurisprudence for the final examination of the university; ... in writing a dissertation; in attaining the highest possible perfection in art and music; in formulating lists of rules; in acquiring knowledge of the natural sciences, and in writing treatises on the various subjects which I may be studying.' " Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 0:26
  • Possible duplicate of Do I use a semicolon before 'and' in a complex list?
    – jsw29
    Commented Oct 13, 2018 at 16:21

3 Answers 3


The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition (2010) discusses serial semicolons in two places—at 6.19, within a section headed "Series and the Serial Comma":

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 (see 6.58). For a simple list, however—even if it is introduced by a colon—a comma is preferred.

and at 6.58, where an example of complex series with serial semicolons appears:

6.58 Semicolons in a complex series. When items in a series themselves contain internal punctuation, separating the items with semicolons can aid clarity. ...

[Example:] The defendant, in an attempt to mitigate his sentence, pleaded that he had recently, on a doctor's orders, gone of his medications; that his car—which, incidentally, he had won in the late 1970s on Let's Make a Deal—had spontaneously caught on fire; and that he had not eaten for several days.

The Oxford Guide to Style (2002) offers a somewhat less baroque example of a serial semicolon in its general subsection 5.4 on semicolons:

In a list where any of the elements themselves contain commas, use a semicolon to clarify the relationship of the components:

[Example:] They pointed out, in support of their claim, that they had used the materials stipulated in the contract; that they had taken every reasonable precaution, including some not mentioned in the code; and that they had employed only qualified workers, all of whom were very experienced.

So the two style guides most widely renowned for their support of the serial comma—Chicago and Oxford—also unequivocally support the serial semicolon, under suitable circumstances.


I'm not sure if it's a case of British vs American as University of Leicester give these examples, all with ; and :

The speakers were: Dr Sally Meadows, Biology; Dr Fred Eliot, Animal Welfare; Ms Gerri Taylor, Sociology; and Prof. Julie Briggs, Chemistry.

The four venues will be: Middleton Hall, Manchester; Highton House, Liverpool; Marsden Hall, Leeds; and the Ashton Centre, Sheffield.

The main points in favour of the system were that it would save time for buying, accounts and on-site staff; it would be welcome by the reception staff; it would use fewer resources; and it would be compatible with earlier systems.


The use of a semi-colon in lists is quite common - when phrases are being listed, rather than words - and the 'Oxford comma' is applied :

H.G.Wells The Time Machine 1895 :

“Presently, as I went on, still gaining velocity, the palpitation of night and day merged into one continuous greyness; the sky took on a wonderful deepness of blue, a splendid luminous color like that of early twilight; the jerking sun became a streak of fire, a brilliant arch, in space; the moon a fainter fluctuating band ; and I could see nothing of the stars, save now and then a brighter circle flickering in the blue.”

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars 1912:

“Princess of Helium, I might wring a mighty ransom from your people would I but return you to them unharmed, but a thousand times rather would I watch that beautiful face writhe in the agony of torture; it shall be long drawn out, that I promise you; ten days of pleasure were all too short to show the love I harbor for your race. The terrors of your death shall haunt the slumbers of the red men through all the ages to come; they will shudder in the shadows of the night as their fathers tell them of the awful vengeance of the green men; of the power and might and hate and cruelty of Tal Hajus. […] Tomorrow the torture will commence; tonight thou art Tal Hajus’; come!”

Both quotations from Scribophile

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