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Is it proper usage to replace a comma in a list with a semi-colon in this situation (see details)?

Is it ever appropriate to use semicolons to separate elements in a list that follows a colon?

For example: I packed several items for my trip to Europe: shoes; shirts; boots; hats; and gloves.

I realize that S&W (4th edition, page 7) advises writers to use commas between a list's elements, but I'm seeing semicolons in a published academic journal, and I'm wondering whether usage has changed since S&W's release.


2 Answers 2


I don't have S&W with me, but I think Strunk said to use commas unless there might be some confusion as to which items belonged together.

In your example, there are only single items and no confusion. Commas are preferred.

"...trip to Europe: shoes, shirts, boot, hats, and gloves."

But note how the items are separated more cleanly by using semicolons to separate:

"...colors of European flags: blue and white; blue, white, and red; green, red, and black; blue and yellow."


In that example, the semi-colon doesn't seem to provide anything that a comma doesn't. However, a semi-colon can be useful in punctuating a list of longer items when they are set out like this:

The choice for the country is between:

investing in the economy;

promoting overseas development; and

paying higher wages.

  • Thank you. Does your answer change if the list has a dozen elements?
    – philq
    Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 19:29
  • 2
    One also uses a semicolon for the list separator when at least one of the list elements contains a comma.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 19:29
  • I'd prefer a bulleted list when there are many items.
    – rajah9
    Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 19:31
  • @tchrist: Yes, quite right. Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 19:37
  • @rajah9: Then how do you deal with the and if you want to make it a sentence? Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 19:38

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