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I raised a similar question here, but the bulleted list example in the only answer to that question confused me, just like this case, as below, I encountered here:

A user agent may terminate service workers at any time it:

  • Has no event to handle.
  • Detects abnormal operation: such as infinite loops and tasks exceeding imposed time limits (if any) while handling the events.

So far as I know, the sentence before the colon is incomplete, and it's followed by a bulleted list containing two incomplete sentences.

Is that snippet correctly punctuated?

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  • 1
    "at any time it" is not grammatical. You can remove "at" and say "any time it" (colloquial) or "at any time when it" or "whenever it". Also, for number agreement with it, you should say "may terminate a service worker" in the singular, not "workers".
    – TimR
    Mar 26 at 10:41
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    "it" must be the user agent, for singular/plural reasons.
    – James K
    Mar 26 at 13:52
  • 1
    @TimR What is the problem with "at"? I don't see any issue with omitting the "when" (or alternatively "that") and leaving it as implied.
    – nasch
    Mar 26 at 20:20
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    That said, one would never leave an "it" at the end especially since it makes no sense at all in the OP's sentence.
    – Lambie
    Mar 27 at 13:05
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    Thanks and that makes the idea more clear, though the first was better English. Since it is more clear, please remember lists are special. Like headlines, captions and a very few other cases they do not, and do not need to, follow normal rules of grammar or punctuation. Yes, the sentence before the colon is incomplete, and it's followed by a list containing incomplete sentences but since it is a list, there can be no general question of correct punctuation. In such cases all that matters is style, the choice lying first with the organisation and then with the author. Mar 31 at 16:34

2 Answers 2

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The colon isn't particularly useful there, so you could follow the rule "if in doubt leave it out". But, on the other hand, it doesn't harm understanding or reading. Some style guides might require that the introduction be a complete clause, and that would be another possible edit.

But this native speaker would be happy to read the list with, without or edited to say "... in the following situations:" If a style guide considers it an error, it is such a minor error that I'd probably not even notice.

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  • Yes, I would say that the form is very neat and compact, but I think this kind of typing would be penalized in tests like IELTS and GRE, etc. Mar 26 at 14:24
  • The example reads like a technical specification to guide implementation. It could help to clarify whether the conditions are alternatives or must all be met. For instance, "X may terminate Y when: X is in this state; [or] X is in this other state; or Y is in this state." That is, I'd state a subject in each time (unless they're all the same), separate the items with a semicolon, and include "and" or "or" in at least the last item to indicate which condition or conditions must be met. Mar 26 at 15:09
  • It seems clear enough to me that the bulleted list is meant to be read as a parallel construction: "A user agent may terminate service workers at any time it has no event to handle or detects abnormal operation: ... ." The colon is just a typical way of setting off a bulleted list. The problem in this example is not that the punctuation is bad or that the grammar is ambiguous; the problem, I believe, is the subject matter.
    – David K
    Mar 27 at 17:00
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Normally, a sentence ending with a bulleted list is treated like the sentence in your other question, and is punctuated similarly. The bulleted list is used to make the structure more visible.

A user agent may terminate service workers at any time it:

  • has no event to handle, or
  • detects abnormal operation: such as infinite loops and tasks exceeding imposed time limits (if any) while handling the events.

(Replace "or" with "and" if that's the intended way the bullet points should be considered together.)

Another option is to make the bullet items complete sentences, explaining the relationship in the introduction to the list:

A user agent may terminate service workers in any of the following circumstances:

  • It has no events to handle.
  • It detects abnormal operation, such as infinite loops and tasks exceeding imposed time limits (if any) while handling the events.
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  • I wouldn't remove the first colon, I've always seen it in technical manuals and it's meant to be some sort of if/elseif style where the original sentence basically continues as if it's been copied before every bullet.
    – Raestloz
    Mar 27 at 3:01
  • The point is to find a way to avoid repeating the "it".
    – Lambie
    Mar 27 at 13:06
  • @DavidK While we wouldn't use the comma when writing A or B in a linear sentence, it feels weird to omit it in a bullet item, even though there are only two items.
    – Barmar
    Mar 27 at 15:22
  • @Barmar Bullet lists are fundamentally weird anyway, so I really can't object to your punctuation. I think it also depends on what kind of document you're writing, and I suspect there are various distinct style guides for those who use style guides.
    – David K
    Mar 27 at 15:58
  • Indeed. I'm not even sure if this specialized style issue is on-topic for ELL.
    – Barmar
    Mar 27 at 16:13

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