The serial semicolons

If you are a copyeditor, I’m sure you know serial commas, aka Oxford comma. That’s the comma that precedes the last element in series as in

He loves reading, editing, teaching, and leading the team.

Yes, that one that follows “teaching”.

You as well know that serial comma is predominantly the style followed in US English.

While commas are used to separate items in a list, semicolons are also used to separate such items. This is when one or more of the list items have a comma already, as in

The participants of the meeting were Robert Langdon, the Manager; Sydney Sheldon, the Senior Manager; and Chandilyan, the Chairman.

This semicolon — the one following “the Senior Manager” — is called a serial semicolon, for obvious reasons.

But please remember, this “serial semicolon” is not a preference. Please use the serial semicolon irrespective of whether you follow serial comma. In other words,

Even if you don’t follow serial comma, when needed feel free to use a serial semicolon.

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