Which should I write:

  • Successive rules are separated by semicolons
  • Successive rules are separated by a semicolon
  • Successive rules are separated by semicolon

In fact after each rule there is a semicolon. Here I don't know successive rules points to two rules separated by a semicolon or multiple successive rules separated by semicolons? or maybe it doesn't matter!

What about The rules are separated by semicolons? I think in this case I certainly can't say The rules are separated with a semicolon. right?

  • All of those sentences convey the same meaning and will be interpreted the same way. The first example contains a slight ambiguity in that it is possible for successive rules to be separated by multiple semicolons but it will not be understood that way. The third sounds more like the answer to "How are successive rules separated? (although the first and second are both acceptable as well). – G-Cam Sep 22 '16 at 13:21
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    You can't just say "by semicolon" - semicolon is a count noun, so it has to be "a semicolon" or "semicolons". – stangdon Sep 22 '16 at 13:35
  • @stangdon I don't know who cast the close vote, but I enhanced my question further to express my main problems. – Ahmad Sep 22 '16 at 13:48
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    If you're looking for advice in a specific domain, you could write "In a list of rules the semicolon is used as the delimiter." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 22 '16 at 15:27
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    And you CAN say "delimited by semicolon". The article is not necessary. google.com/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 22 '16 at 15:28

As stangdon says in a comment:

You can't just say "by semicolon" - semicolon is a count noun, so it has to be "a semicolon" or "semicolons".

Out of the remaining options, my preference is for the first ("Successive rules are separated by semicolons") but the second is also grammatical ("Successive rules are separated by a semicolon"). I don't think there's any overwhelming logical basis for one or the other.

Here is some evidence from Google Books that I think shows that people use plural nouns like this alongside "successive rules" (bolding added):

Composites, are rules that are created by merging at least two successive rules of a parse tree of a solution. ("Online Modeling the Novice-Expert Shift in Programming Skills on a Rule-Schema-Case Partial Order," by Claus Möbus, Olaf Schröder and Heinz-Jürgen Thole, in Cognition and Computer Programming, edited by Karl F. Wender, Franz Schmalhofer, and Heinz-Dieter Böcker)

Note that this sentence starts with "Composites are rules..." and not "A composite is a rule...".

Error estimates for these rules are usually computed using differences from successive rules... (Computation of Multivariate Normal and t Probabilities, by Alan Genz and Frank Bretz)

Note that this says "differences from successive rules" and not "the difference from successive rules."

  • Thanks but according to the comments of @tromano under the question, the third option is also possible. – Ahmad Sep 22 '16 at 19:50

The answer is: Successive rules are separated by a semicolon.

  • 1st case: Says that two rules are separated by multiple semicolons.

    Correct result: Rule1;;Rule2;;;;Rule3

  • 2nd case: Says that two rules are separated by a single semicolon.

    Correct result: Rule1;Rule2;Rule3;Rule4

  • 3rd case: Same as 2nd case. But there the article 'a' is missing.

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