# Use of punctuation in complex list with two sets of appositives

How would you punctuate the sentence below? Is it okay the way it is? I've never seen a sentence that introduced more than one list with a colon. I considered just taking out the colons. I also considered replacing them with commas. I haven't been able to find a clear answer in my research.

Here is the sentence:

We dedicate this work to our spouses: Glenda, Sue, and June; and to our children: Thomas and Reese; Oliver and Sarah; James, Hannah, and Finn.

• We dedicate this work to our spouses – Glenda, Sue, and June, and to our children – Thomas & Reese, Oliver & Sarah, James, Hannah, and Finn. Though I'd restructure. Mar 21, 2020 at 19:53
• I think the colons are only confusing the issue. It removes the appositives from that status. Once you're using semicolons to establish logical groupings, you only need to use commas ("... and to our children, Thomas and Reese" etc.). Mar 21, 2020 at 19:54
• If I were, I would use this way: "We dedicate this work to our spouses Glenda, Sue, and June; and (to) our children Thomas and Reese, Oliver and Sarah, James, Hannah, and Finn." Hyphen is parenthetical which is not the case here." Colon is to list out, and here it is not a list. Feb 16, 2021 at 0:56

I think most copy editors would agree that there are more than one solution to this. To my eyes, the semi-colons and colon bog it down. I'd simplify:

We dedicate this work to our spouses Glenda, Sue, and June and to our children Thomas and Reese, Oliver and Sarah, and James, Hannah, and Finn.

There is an inherent problem with this solution: Without commas after spouses or children, a reader might infer that there are other, unnamed wives and children. And with commas there, it would sound like the three women and seven others are in addition to the wives and offspring.

But in this situation, less clutter means more clarity, and I think the reader will trust that none of the three authors is a bigamist.

• '[T]here are more than one solution to this' has been covered on ELU (and found wanting; CS Lewis and J Lawler ['phrases like more than one man agree with a singular verb'] being authorities speaking on the usage). Dec 17, 2020 at 19:54

Your core problem, and I read it several times before figuring it out, is that it's not clear you're attaching a particular mom to their particular kids.

Also, colons aren't used very much in American English, but your use of it is correct. Although it's generally frowned upon on this site, I'm going to rearrange your sentence to remove ambiguity (for kicks, we'll keep the colon, but em-dashes like Edwin explained would be more typical).

We dedicate this work to our spouses and their children: Glenda, mother of Thomas and Reece; Sue, mother of Oliver and Sarah; and June, mother of James, Hannah and Finn.

The semicolons are necessary because of lists within a list.

• Sounds like the authors may not be the fathers, though. I like the original. I did not find it confusing. Jun 11 at 3:04