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I have seen questions looking at using semi-colons to make a list, but I am looking to ask whether semi-colons can go within lists to better define the objects in the list. I am looking to write a list within a sentence like this:

These genes are significant in related conditions (gene1; kidney disease, gene2; cardiac arrhythmia, gene3; arterial stiffness, gene4; aortic aneurysm) suggesting new avenues of work.'

I am not great with grammar, so I am not sure if this is actually correct to do; apologies if I am missing an important rule.

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It is acceptable to use semi-colons in a list. However, the semi-colon is a stronger separator than a comma, so your example is effectively making a list which separates the items like this (which doesn't make sense):

gene1
kidney disease, gene2
cardiac arrhythmia, gene3
arterial stiffness, gene4
aortic aneurysm

It would be better to swap the commas and semi-colons:

'These genes are significant in related conditions (gene1, kidney disease; gene2, cardiac arrhythmia; gene3, arterial stiffness; gene4, aortic aneurysm) suggesting new avenues of work.'

Alternatively you could replace the commas with dashes:

'These genes are significant in related conditions (gene1 - kidney disease; gene2 - cardiac arrhythmia; gene3 - arterial stiffness; gene4 - aortic aneurysm) suggesting new avenues of work.'

  • I would think colons might also work: gene1: kidney disease; gene2: cardiac arrhythmia; gene3: arterial stiffness.... However, looking at it now, the colon might be too visually similar to the comma. So the dash might be the best way to go. – Zack Jul 18 at 15:27
  • In the revised version, you could also replace the commas with colons. Also note that if you do replace the commas, there is no reason why the existing semicolons couldn't become commas. You normally only use a semicolon in this case if one or more list items already contain a comma. – Jason Bassford Jul 18 at 21:10
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    Thank you for this and the above comments, this is much clearer to me now! – DN1 Jul 19 at 9:55

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