I need to buy ingredients for the party; bananas, apples[,] and oranges for fruit salad; chips and crackers for snacking[;] and soda, water[,] and cola for drinks.

UK punctuation rules state semicolons outrank commas. Oxford comma is not to be used unless it is to avoid ambiguity. I have used square brackets to show the three instances where the oxford comma is used. Two out of the three are on the inner list and a semicolon is used for the outer list. My question now is 1. is this sentence correct? 2. is the ambiguity assumed for all nested lists or is it case to a case basis?

This is a question where we need to say if the punctuation is correct or not.

Thank you all in advance.

  • 1
    Whether the Oxford comma should be used is a matter of opinion, not rule. In your example omitting it could imply that only the apples and oranges are for the fruit salad. Dec 29, 2022 at 13:49
  • thank you, Kate, but in my line of work, oxford comma rule has to be implemented. I might be wrong, but the semicolon ensures that bananas are part of the fruit salad along with apples and oranges. Dec 29, 2022 at 14:05
  • Are you working to a published style guide? What is the style guide?
    – James K
    Dec 29, 2022 at 14:06
  • 1
    Note that your first semicolon should be a colon. Dec 29, 2022 at 14:06
  • Thank you Jeffrey. It is my oversight. It should have been a colon. Dec 29, 2022 at 15:55

1 Answer 1


Do you have to?

Wanting to use double-nested lists is usually a sign that something has gone in your rhetoric and you should think about how to phrase to avoid this. You could use bulleted lists or make three sentences.

I need to get some ingredients for the party. For the fruit salad I'll need bananas, apples and oranges. Then I'll get some crisps and crackers for snacking, and for drinks I'll get some bottled water and cola.

(Two language/cultural notes - in Britain, chips are thick pieces of fried potato, served hot as part of a meal, eg with fried fish. "Soda" is not often sold, and then only as a mixer. You might mean "bottled water", which may be sparkling or still. Soda doesn't mean a generic bubbly drink, like it does in parts of the USA, without context "soda" can mean "washing soda" or even "baking soda")

Oxford commas are optional, which means it is correct to include them or avoid them.

Now if you must use the nested list use a full colon to introduce the list. Oxford commas are optional before "and" (I've omitted them here) but don't use commas for a two-item list. Using a semicolon after "snacking" helps to clarify that a new high-level item is starting.

I need to buy ingredients for the party: bananas, apples and oranges for fruit salad; chips and crackers for snacking; and soda, water and cola for drinks.

This is one reasonable punctuation. But there are other ways that are just as correct.

  • Thank you, James. This is helpful. Dec 29, 2022 at 15:57

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