# When to use semicolon and comma in a list of clauses?

Case 1

The probability that event A equals to 1, B equals to 2, and C equals to 3 is X.

and

The probability that event A equals to 1; B equals to 2, and C equals to 3 is X.

which is correct?

My concern here is according to "https://data.grammarbook.com/blog/commas/how-to-punctuate-between-sentences-using-commas-semicolons-and-colons/", it states that

"Rule: Use the semicolon if you have two independent clauses connected without a conjunction"

I am not sure if this rule applies to 3 clauses, and if it does apply,

The probability that event A equals to 1; B equals to 2, and C equals to 3 is X.

looks very weird to me.

Case 2

The probability that (1) event A equals to 1, (2) B equals to 2, and (3) C equals to 3 is X.

and

The probability that (1) event A equals to 1; (2) B equals to 2, and (3) C equals to 3 is X.

which is correct?

There is a need to use (1), (2), (3) because my original sentence for "event A equals to 1" is actually quite long. In case2, which way to use "semicolon" is correct?

• Nov 17 '19 at 1:56
• Also related Nov 17 '19 at 1:59
• Your use of the semicolon here is incorrect. All the cases you show are lists. The only way I can think of how a semicolon would enter here would be if the list was composed of two parts that were disjoint but thematically connected. Basically, you should be able to replace a semicolon with an m-dash or a period and not change the sentence's underlying meaning, though you would alter its emphasis. In your case, because variable X means "A=1 and B=2 and C=3" you can see the problem if you put a period at the end of "A=1". Apr 15 '20 at 7:31

Among stops (I am using the term here to denote a class of punctuation marks, not consonants), the semicolon is intermediate between the comma (“,”) on the one hand, and the period (“.”—full stop in British usage) on the other. For usage in separating independent clauses, think of it as a lesser period, giving the reader permission to take a slightly lesser mental/grammatical processing break. For usage in lists, think of it as a greater comma, separating list items that cannot be separated merely by commas because at least one of them includes a comma, to separate the main naming of the item from some appositive, non-restrictive relative clause, or other parenthetical addendum. The point I wish to emphasize here is that your confusion is a confusion between these two altogether different usages of the semicolon. This page from Merriam-Webster may be helpful.

Semicolons go between two parts of a sentence when each is technically a sentence. "He was victorious in yesterday's mayoral race; work begins now."

Yu-Cheng Chen!

We usually use commas in lists within a sentence:

I believe that dogs are fun, cats are lazy, and pets are a lot of work.

Semicolons are used between to highly connected thoughts, almost like a conjunction:

He ran all night and was utterly exhausted by the ordeal; he collapsed.

So, the better formulation given your example is the first:

The probability that event A equals to 1, B equals to 2, and C equals to 3 is X.

That's because our brains conceptualize this as:

The probability that event 'A equals to 1', 'B equals to 2', and 'C equals to 3' is X.
The probability that event 'A=1', 'B=2', and 'C=3' is X.

As a math guy, I'd probably write:

The probability that event A=1, B=2, and C=3 is P.

Note well, in very sophisticated writing, sometimes semicolons are used, but rarely in common usage.

Be such that the claims in the book need to be addressed, which is the purpose of this exegesis, then one can conclude certain ideas are tenable such as: the nature of man must be explored soley by philosophers who by their method are more apt to the characteristics of man clearly, no insult meant to other professions; that to explore any collection of human traits is a process which requires time, energy, and a peculiar attention to the psychological is beyond doubt; and it is no small victory for a personality framework to include such a comprehensive and sweeping set of ontological and epistemological features, and thus I give credit where credit is due.