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I saw this sentence structure on this document online: Application for a Social Security Card.

Can you tell me why there is no "period" in this structure? Where can I learn how to use a colon like this?

As proof of your identity, you must provide a:

  • U.S. driver's license; or
  • U.S. State-issued non-driver identity card; or
  • U.S. passport
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2 Answers 2

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This is a "vertical list punctuated as a sentence", as described by various style guides:

Garner's Modern American Usage inserts periods at the end of bullet lists only if the bullet list begins with a capital letter. However, Garner qualifies this:

"If you begin each item with a lowercase letter, put a semicolon at the end of each item, use and after the next-to-last item, and put a period after the last item." Garner calls this "vertical lists punctuated as a sentence." This is where the semicolon confusion comes in.

The Chicago Manual of Style has pages of rules and examples of bullet lists that agree with the Garner style recommendation to use semicolons after each item, use and after the next-to-last-item, and use a period at the end of the last item. — How to Correctly Punctuate Bullet Point Lists

There are some deviations from this format in your example. First, the CMOS at least would not allow you to use a colon here because the part preceding the colon is not a complete sentence. Second, the sentence uses or twice, probably to make the sentence easier to read and understand. Third, there is no ending punctuation. While it's easy to see that the sentence ends there (given that the next line starts with a capital letter), there should be a period at the end of the last bullet where the sentence ends (but perhaps there's a different style guide that allows that).

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  • 'that' being 'the omission of a final period'? And can you please clarify whether 'OP's 'bullet list' is considered to start with 'As' or 'U.S.'. If the latter, does the inherently (rather than sententially) required capital U really satisfy the 'bullet list begins with a capital letter' requirement? Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 13:53
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    @EdwinAshworth If you mean the last "that", yes (though it could apply to any of the points I raised). I think "starting with a capital letter" is shorthand (however confusing that is) for "the bullet is a complete sentence".
    – Laurel
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 14:34
  • Thank you. May I ask one question? I am not from the U.S. but isn't there a writing style guide for official documents? It seems all these guides are for writing essays in education institutions. I mean aren't these people who work in the government super educated and use the best English that we should aspire to follow?
    – user450250
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 9:02
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I would say that is not a typical UK English way of writing. I would have written it so:

As proof of your identity, you must provide one of these:

  • U.S. driver's license
  • U.S. State-issued non-driver identity card
  • U.S. passport

This is the right way to use a colon in this context.

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  • Thank you. If I said this in a normal sentence structure, it would be "As proof of your identity, you must provide one of these: U.S. driver's license, U.S. State-issued non-driver identity card, AND U.S. passport." In a list structure, we can remove commas and a period. Is that correct?
    – user450250
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 12:31
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    Almost. You must provide one of these: U.S. driver's license, U.S. State-issued non-driver identity card, or U.S. passport. Bulleted lists are like shopping lists that need no periods unless the list items are sentences themselves. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 12:34
  • Can you tell me why there is no "period" in this structure? And please supply supporting evidence for claims of this nature; even correct answers without such come across as lightweight, possibly wrong. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 13:51

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