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I have been taught different things regarding when to use a semicolon or a comma to separate the items in a series in a long sentence. Take the sentence below:

If you do not like what I have to say, email me at the email address provided on my website, call me, or send me a text message.

I have always written them as above until this year, when I learned that the seemingly "proper" way to do so was as follows:

If you do not like what I have to say, email me at the email address provided on my website; call me; or send me a text message.

What makes this particular example ambiguous is that my AP Style Guide (which I largely conform to since I copy edit a school newspaper) says that semicolons should be used if all of the items in a series are long. This series contains both short and long items and also has a comma after the initial dependent clause.

I suspect that this is mostly a style guide thing, but any clarification here would be appreciated since my sources seem to contradict each other.

Thanks.

  • I too suspect that this is mostly a style guide thing. My stylistic choice would be to resequence your three options from shortest to longest, if only because it will encourage the reader to keep wading through the list. He could reasonably assume almost at the end now! when you finally get to or (which you'd usually only include before the final option), so get it in as early as possible to keep him hanging in there! Then you could reasonably ditch the unnecessary comma after say, which is probably an improvement. – FumbleFingers May 12 '18 at 16:37
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    Yeah, it's mostly style—and one I personally disagree with. Generally, you'd use semicolons in a list only if the list items themselves have coordinating conjunctions or commas, to avoid ambiguity. – AleksandrH May 12 '18 at 16:38
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    @AleksandrH: Each to their own, I guess. Personally I think using semicolons in OP's context would be at least "stilted". And I don't think it's (syntactically? orthographically?) valid to include or in any such construction. – FumbleFingers May 12 '18 at 16:42
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    I definitely think it's a stylistic choice and I was going to say the same thing as above. Since "Or" is a conjunction it wouldn't conform to the rule of thumb that you should use semicolons for linking independent clauses with no connecting words. – Alex W May 12 '18 at 17:39
  • I've never seen this advice. I have come across various style guides recommending the use of a semicolon as a super-comma where needed to disambiguate (There is a choice of sausage, egg and chips; bacon, beans and toast; and kippers and hash browns). Are you quoting accurately here? It is expected on ELU. – Edwin Ashworth May 12 '18 at 20:19

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