JS Tip 221: From the Basic Writing Workshops: Using Supercommas (Semicolons), Part I

Rob Kohler of Zions Bank asked us to talk about semicolons. We can do that. We can talk about semicolons.

Semicolons have two purposes. That’s it. Two. No more.

We’ll talk about one of those two purposes today. We’ll talk about the other purpose next week.

Semicolons separate items in a series that already contain commas.

Consider this example: “The inspection team visited Taos, New Mexico, Tucson, Arizona, and Temecula, California.”

Three items in the series:

Taos, New Mexico.

Tucson, Arizona,

Temecula, California.

But each already contains a comma (separating the city and the state). How do we make it clear—to those who may not be clear about Western geography—we’re talking about three locations instead of six?

Use a semicolon. A supercomma.

“The inspection team visited Taos, New Mexico; Tucson, Arizona; and Temecula, California.”

The principle applies to any paragraph list with items including commas:

“The team includes Rachel Waite, Audit; Cary Washington, Accounting; and Tony Ramirez, Compliance.”

Thank you, Rob. Let us know your questions and concerns. We love this stuff.