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Suppose Bryan wants to say "If you do that, then (i) I will leave, (ii) I will never go back, and (iii) I do not want to see you again.". My question is how to use punctuation to prevent the enumerations (i), (ii), (iii)? My guess is to rewrite it as "then I will leave; I will never go back; I do not want to see you again.". Is this understandable without causing confusion in the sense that the reader could get it that the idea is there are three consequents? Should I use commas instead of semicolons?

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    Something brought up in several answers is that your (iii) statement appears odd. (i) and (ii) are phrased as only happening when the condition happens, while (iii) is happening either way. Is it intended that "I do not want to see you again, even if you don't do that"? Mar 23, 2018 at 16:47

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You have correctly used the semicolons, since each of your enumerations in a complete sentence. And your sentence is clear, forceful, and understandable. Nicely done, not everyone can use semicolons correctly!

As you suggest, however, using commas can simplify the statement.

If you do that I will leave, never go back, and I will not want to see you again.

The new sentence is more conversational, easier to read, but not as forceful as your semicolons.

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    Perfect, except it's come back, not go back, most likely.
    – Lambie
    Mar 23, 2018 at 17:18
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    Your suggestion has inconsistent parallelization. It should be "If you do that I will leave, never go back, and not want to see you again.", "If you do that I will leave, I will never go back, and I will not want to see you again.", or "If you do that I will leave and never go back, and I will not want to see you again." Mar 23, 2018 at 20:36
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The three parts are quite different in structure, and that makes it difficult to use uniform punctuation. As the sentence stands, I would combine the first two and make the third a separate item.

If you do that, I will leave and never come back, and I do not want to see you again.

Note that I have omitted then as it is rarely used in informal English, and have replaced go back with come back: when you leave, you have to come back, not go back. This sounds overly complicated though, and I don't feel comfortable about the do in do not want: I feel that it should maybe be a will in a conditional.

It would be easier if you rationalised the conditional clauses:

I will leave
I will never come back
I will never see you again.

You can then parallel them up like this:

If you do that, I will leave and never come back or see you again.

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  • I agree that leaving out "then" is more natural in this case, but I don't think it's fair to say "then" is rarely used in informal English - people use it all the time without seeming overly formal...
    – psmears
    Mar 23, 2018 at 15:43
  • @psmears This NGram demonstrates that then is not generally used.books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – JavaLatte
    Mar 23, 2018 at 16:48
  • Err, actually it demonstrates nothing of the sort...For one thing it's only a single example of a phrase; for another, if you actually look at the results, a good proportion of them aren't even "if" clauses, so a "then" would make no sense...I think it's fair to say native speakers will often leave out a "then" if the meaning and structure are clear without it, but often (especially with more complex sentences) it can help with understanding--putting it in isn't then a matter of "formal" or "informal"; it's just that putting it in when it's not needed is...well, unnecessary, so people don't :)
    – psmears
    Mar 23, 2018 at 23:14
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What you have are 3 distinct independent clauses. There are various ways to combine or not combine them.

You could make them separate sentences.

I will leave. I will never come back. I do not want to see you again.

You could combine them with semi-colons:

I will leave; I will never come back; I do not want to see you again.

I'd advise against this in this case. Generally combining more than 2 independent clauses with semi-colons sounds like a run-on sentence.

You could combine them with one or two conjunctions:

I will leave, I will never come back, and I do not want to see you again.

Or

I will leave and I will never come back and I do not want to see you again.

The first is more common. It depends what rhythm you want.

You could also combine the common parts of the clauses:

I will leave and never come back or see you again.

Side note: I have a problem with combining "If you ... then I will" with "I do not want". The first two things are conditional: if you do this, then I will. But the third part is absolute, I do not want. I think it would make more sense as, "I will leave. I will not come back. I will never see you again." Or as this appears to be a threat, maybe "You will never see me again."

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  • is that last bit absolute? I don't think so, I think it's part of the conditional threat. So I'd go with: If you do that, I will leave, I will never come back, and I will not want to see you again.
    – CCTO
    Mar 23, 2018 at 20:30
  • @CCTO Yes, I agree with that. There are multiple possible wordings, but I think the wording from the original post is not the best.
    – Jay
    Mar 23, 2018 at 20:38
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An alternative is to use a colon to introduce the series and semicolons to separate the items in the series. "If you do that, then: I will leave; I will never go back; and I do not want to see you again." This gives a greater impression than commas of an emphatic declaration with pauses to give greater weight to the individual parts.

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