How to use semicolons in a list

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Strange but true!

In 1837, two law professors at the University of Paris disagreed so strongly on the correct use of the semicolon that they decided the only way to settle the matter was through a duel!

Introduction to semicolons in a list

Writing a list sounds simple, but there are several punctuation marks you need.

can introduce a list, while are used to separate items in a list. For example:

You will need to bring the following: sleeping bag, pillow, pyjamas, water bottle, waterproof jacket, sweatshirt, walking boots, and swimming kit.

But what if the list included explanations or extra detail about the items? Where the list items themselves already use commas, things can get complicated. That's where the semicolon can be useful.

Find out how to use semicolons to list the members of a band

Find out how to use semicolons to list the members of a band

Step-by-step guide

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Examples of using semicolons in a list

Look at the following example:

You will need to bring the following: sleeping bag, pillow, and pyjamas for the overnight stay; water bottle, waterproof jacket, sweatshirt, and walking boots for the afternoon trek; and a swimming kit for the river activities.

Here, a colon introduces the list and semicolons indicate which parts of the list are grouped together.

Here's another example:

Last year we travelled to Dorchester, Dorset; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Whitby, North Yorkshire.

In this example, commas help to separate town names from more general locations, and semicolons show which of the place names and locations are grouped together.

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