Hello! Socratic's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy have been updated, which will be automatically effective on October 6, 2018. Please contact hello@socratic.com with any questions.

Would one use a semicolon in lists where each item in the list has multiple words, for example: To be part of a team; to have a leader; to eat pie. Or is a comma used?

2 Answers
Feb 22, 2018


Yes, a semicolon would be used instead of a comma.


I'm currently going through a lesson in English on the topic of semicolons, and I was told that they would only be used when there are items to separate in a list when commas would be confusing. Here are some examples:

On a trip, we drove through Tampa, Florida; Wichita, Kansas; and Fresno; California.

The group was composed of three young people: Mary, who was 32 years old; Javier, who was 28 years old; and Mind, who was 17 years old.

The answers to the test are: 1, A; 2, D; 3, F; and 4, B.

Mar 9, 2018


Use semicolons between items on a list only if there are "internal" commas within the items themselves.


You use semicolons between items on a list when there are "internal" commas within the items.

The use of semicolons in a list is not related to the number of words in the items, or the length of the items.

For example, this list needs just commas because the items don't have any commas of their own:

At the store I bought bread, milk, chicken, eggs, coffee, and cheese.

Here is a list with long items using many words, but since there are no commas within the items, they are separated with commas, not semicolons:

Whole Duty of Children
~ from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson

A child should always say what’s true, #larr# comma
And speak when he is spoken to, #larr# comma
And behave mannerly at table; #larr# This semicolon ends the list
At least as far as he is able.

But this list -- with commas within the items -- needs to have semicolons between the items:

I sent invitations to Ted, my brother; Susanna, my older sister; Natalie, my younger sister; and Joanne, my only cousin.

Here's a .edu site that explains this rule:

Use semicolons

To link lists where the items contain commas to avoid confusion between list items

There are basically two ways to write: with a pen or pencil, which is inexpensive and easily accessible; or by computer and printer, which is more expensive but quick and neat.