Men, particularly, spend hours of their leisure time installing their own fireplaces, laying out their own gardens; building garages and making furniture.

I do not understand the use of the semicolon (";") after "gardens" in the sentence above, could someone help?


1 Answer 1


It's a misuse of the semicolon as a complex-list delimiter.

Sometimes semicolons will be used to separate list components that are grammatically more complicated, especially those including commas that are not meant to be taken as delimiters.

In a simple list, commas suffice:

My favorite colors are blue, green, white, and amber.

Here is a more complicated list in the same vein, using semicolons:

My favorite colors, the ones I like to see every day, are blue, like the blue of an ocean on a clear day; green, like the sea when it storms, or just before a storm; white, like snow, but not chalky like talcum powder; and amber.

You can see that the latter list uses semicolons to avoid confusion with the interior commas of the listed items.

The problem with your example sentence is that for clarity you should use either one or the other as a delimiter, not both. If both commas and semicolons are used as delimiters, the sentence gets more confusing and difficult to parse. The upshot: use commas for simple lists, semicolons where needed to avoid confusion.

Because an answer here is not considered "complete" without an external reference, here's one from Grammar Monster:

Items in lists are usually separated with commas (as in the first example below). However, if the list items themselves contain commas, then semicolons can be used as separators to outrank those commas.

Which says nothing more than I told you above.

  • Thanks for the clarification, Robusto. I thought it was a misuse as well.
    – Charlie
    May 3, 2019 at 8:23
  • @Charlie: If this works for you, please consider accepting the answer so we can put it in the books.
    – Robusto
    May 4, 2019 at 0:43

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