I have a list of items separated by semicolons, because the items themselves contain commas. If this were a comma-separated list, I would offset it from the rest of the sentence with a comma, but I'm not sure what to do in the case of a semicolon-separated list:

While visiting Houston, TX; San Francisco, CA; and Atlanta, GA, I spoke to many different types of people.

Should there be a comma or a semicolon between "Atlanta, GA" and "I spoke"?

(I am hoping for answers that provide a grammar or style rule for what to do in this situation rather than a suggestion to restructure the sentence, unless the applicable grammar or style rule is "restructure sentences to avoid this situation".)

  • You could further parse the the short list of semicolon-separated items from the rest of the sentence with em-dashes, such as "While visiting three cities---a,A; b,B; and c,C--- I sp..".
    – 11qq00
    Oct 7, 2021 at 17:12
  • All I'd use is commas. The state names here need no mental processing, as they pair so with their cities. For me, they are not needed. There's another San Francisco? Oct 7, 2021 at 18:47
  • @Yosef Baskin: No, I believe that there be only one "San Francisco", although not necessarily does the same apply to each of "Atlanta" and "Houston". Given the context of large-ish cities, I agree that in the given the State names could be simply dropped without loss of meaning and simultaneously enabling easier readability, though that isn't the case with less instantly-recognizable or technically-nonambiguous list of implicit ordered-pairs truncated to that of mono- objects.
    – 11qq00
    Oct 7, 2021 at 18:55
  • Another potential possibility is the [non-standard] option is to use varying-sized Unicode spaces for clarity in parsing: “While visiting Houston, TX, San Francisco, CA, and Atlanta, GA, I spoke to many different types of people.”.
    – 11qq00
    Oct 7, 2021 at 20:02
  • andor using varying comma as in the in-line list "Houston、TX, San Francisco、CA, et Atlanta、GA".
    – 11qq00
    Oct 7, 2021 at 20:15

1 Answer 1


You would not type "After heating up the [sub-list ingredients]; mix them thoroughly."; you would instead separate the clause with a comma. The same ought to apply to lists of toponyms separated each by semicolon instead of comma. That said, "<city>, GA, I .." looks a little awkward (though less wrong than using a semicolon instead of comma after 'GA', and I do believe technically correct).

To use more precision in differentiating a hierarchical consistency, you could deviate from the standard guidelines (of re-wording or using the comma) by intralist-ally supplanting spaces by underscores and semicolons by commas and shifting the list-terminating pausal comma, as in "While visiting Houston,TX, San_Francisco,CA and Atlanta,GA ,I spoke to many different types of people.". For lists of longer than three items or a dozen syllables or so, I (and probably most guidelines) would recommend a restructuring, further parsing the list out of necessity, while keeping focus on the intended aspects.


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