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I suggested to someone recently that they reword a sentence (in a web standards specification document, if it matters) to:

Let A be 1 if B is true and C is X, 2 otherwise.

Someone else agreed overall, but said it should be a semicolon:

Let A be 1 if B is true and C is X; 2 otherwise.

To me, that semicolon is out of place and should be a comma. If the bit after "if" had commas in it, then I'd use a semi, but not otherwise. Which should it be?

Interested in AmEng and/or BrEng answers. (My personal dialect is a combination of the two.)

This "if/otherwise" aspect doesn't seem to be covered by the answers to When should one use the comma versus the semicolon, and vice versa?.

  • I think it's to do with where you put the 2. FWIW my BrEng instincts are that let A be 1 if B is true and C is X, otherwise 2 is fine, as is let A be 1 if B is true and C is X; 2 if not. When you use 2 otherwise, I feel you put yourself in a kind of half-way house. – user339660 May 1 at 14:49
  • @Minty - Interesting... :-) – T.J. Crowder May 1 at 14:51
  • I had to 'double think' the meaning of "2 otherwise" in your first option. I don't think it's actually wrong or ambiguous. As another Brit, I also agree with the comment from @Minty as regards word order. Personally, I would have used "... x; else 2"; or "else A = 2". Finally, visually, I prefer the semicolon as it makes a clearer separation; whereas with the comma it looks a bit like the beginning of a 'list': "X, 2". – TrevorD May 1 at 15:02
  • @TrevorD - I quite like Minty's "2 if not". But the comma/semi thing remains either way. I find the semi quite jarring (again, absent a comma in the middle bit), but... – T.J. Crowder May 1 at 15:08
  • On reflection, I think my 'concern' is that having the X & the 2 adjacent to each other makes it initially appear like a 'list of values / numbers' - whereas either (a) using a semi-colon, or (b) putting the "2" after a word, more clearly separates the "X" and the "2". – TrevorD May 1 at 15:14

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