Commas, semicolons, colons, lists and â€œandâ€, and how they work together to handle nested lists.
â€œMetroâ€™s operating expenses are paid through three sources: passenger fares, revenue raised by the agency through advertising and other sources and taxpayers in the District, Maryland and Virginia.â€ â€” â€œMetro Considers Increasing Rail Faresâ€ by Lena H. Sun, Washington Post Dec. 11, 2006, Page A11 (from A1).
Whatâ€™s happening here? Thereâ€™s a list, the colon tells us that, but then there is but one, wait, no, two commas and three â€œandâ€s to help us sort it out. No semicolons. Lots of words that go together in confusing ways.
The most likely answer is that there are nested lists and we need some way to sort them out, and this is where semicolons working with colons, commas and â€œandâ€s shine.
â€œMetroâ€™s operating expenses are paid through three sources: passenger fares; revenue raised by the agency through advertising and other sources; and taxpayers in the District, Maryland and Virginia.â€
Not only is this now clear, but it opens the sentence up to paring unnecessary words.
â€œMetroâ€™s operating expenses are paid from: fares; advertising and other revenue; and taxes from the District, Maryland and Virginia.â€
No need to say â€œthree sources, because our semicolons make that perfectly visible, and this leads us away from other cruft like â€œpassenger faresâ€ and â€œrevenue raised by the agency.â€
My inner grammar Nazi usually stays in the background, but occasionally there’s something that requires action.