The list below is taken from Barbara Abbott's 'Definiteness and Indefiniteness.' My query is not related to the contents of the paper but it is about the punctuation she uses, about the use of semicolons. Why do you think she uses semicolons in these bold parts, where I think simple commas suffice? I think she purposely uses semicolons, but I cannot figure out her intents.

I cannot reproduce her list to a tee here. If you would take the trouble of going to the actual site and see Table 1, it would be much appreciated.



  • NP type: [NP e]
  • More details: control PRO; pro; other instances of ellipsis
  • Examples: Mary tried e to fly; [on a pill packet] e contains methanol [=Ariel 1988, ex. 7a]

('NP' here is actually a subscript in the paper)

  • NP type: Pronouns
  • More details: the personal pronouns
  • Examples: I, you, she, them

  • NP type: Demonstratives
  • More details: demonstrative pronouns; NPs with demonstrative determiners
  • Examples: This, that, this chair over here

  • NP type: Possessive NPs
  • More details: NPs with genitive NPs as determiner
  • Examples: my best friend's wedding, our house


Semicolons are generally used to join complete sentences that have related meaning:

I was sick yesterday; by this morning I felt better.

In such a case, it takes the place of a co-ordinating conjunction such as and, but, or or for. In this case, I might have substituted but for the semicolon.

Another use is to help set apart complex (multi-level) lists:

You have three sets of choices: square, triangle or circle; red, green or blue; and small, medium or large.

For a more complete explanation of the use of semicolons, see here.

That said, it's not clear to me that the examples conform to these rules. However, since they are entries in tables and this is a scientific paper, clarity counts more than rules. It seems that the writer thought that setting the items apart with semicolons in some cases provided better clarity than using commas.

  • I was thinking maybe the items separated by semicolons are rather long (PRO and pro are pronominal determiner phrases without phonological content); therefore, Abbott used semicolons. But 'this chair over here' and 'my best friend's wedding' make the interpretation sound wrong. – Sssamy Jan 6 '18 at 2:14
  • @Sssamy Using semicolons because something is rather long isn't a "correct" application of the rules for their use. But judicious breaking of rules for the sake of clarity is certainly arguably appropriate. – BobRodes Jan 6 '18 at 2:31

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