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I came across some sentences similar to these:

  • I would like my burger with no mustard, jalapeños, lettuce, and pickles.
  • I would like my burger with mustard, no jalapeños, lettuce, and pickles.

I can't immediately tell whether the "no" is intended to apply to all of the elements in the list following "no" or only the element directly following it (although I do think the penultimate word would more naturally be "or" if "no" applied to all elements). I would find it less ambiguous when some elements have "no" but others don't.

  • I would like my burger with: no mustard, jalapeños, no lettuce, and pickles.

I know the semicolon can be used as a "super comma" for lists where elements contain commas, but I have not found anything about using it with negations such as above.

To reduce ambiguity, would it be acceptable to use semicolons as separators for lists such as this? Would it be preferred?

  • I would like my burger with: no mustard; jalapeños; lettuce; pickles.

(This question is similar, but the answers don't address whether semicolons could or should be used.)

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    I would put the withs first and then list the withouts: "...burger with jalapenos, cheese, and pickles, but no lettuce, bacon, or mustard." – nnnnnn Jun 7 at 0:35
  • You have to clearly separate the adds from the holds, esp. in speech. – KannE Jun 7 at 2:43
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    Add a colon after with. That's the simplest way of making it clear that the no applies only to a single list item. Or you can forego the colon and use numbers in parentheses before each list item. Or simply don't put a no item at the start of the list. – Jason Bassford Jun 7 at 12:43
  • The essence of such sentences is that you group the list by type - first, all the positive/unqualified and then all the negative/qualified: I would like my burger with mustard, jalapeños, and lettuce, but no/without pickles, mayo, relish or eggs. – Greybeard Jun 7 at 17:29
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Imagine you are in front of a low-quality microphone-and-speaker at a fast food drive-through. If you want to be as clear as possible you'd say:

"I want my burger with mustard, lettuce, and pickles; but with no jalapenos, no onions, and no relish."

| improve this answer | |
  • I am specifically dealing with written context in my situation. I do agree rewording it is the clearest option, written or spoken, but especially in spoken context. – Possum Jun 7 at 18:34
  • Another way to make the items completely unambiguous would be something like <br/> "I want my burger with mustard, lettuce, and pickles; but without the following: jalapenos, onions, and relish. This also accomplishes the clear separation referenced by KannE, but seems more awkward. – gorlux Jun 7 at 19:42

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