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February 18, 2010

Lists, Part 2: Commas and Semicolons

Timothy McAdoo by Timothy McAdoo

This is the second in a six-part series about lists in APA Style. Today I’ll provide examples of serial commas and semicolons.


The most basic type of list appears in the running text of a sentence, with each item separated by a comma. All lists in APA Style should include a serial comma—the final comma before the conjunction.

For example,

Each child was given a plush toy, a building block, and a rubber ball.


This gets more complex when an item or multiple items in your list already have commas. In these cases, separate the items with semicolons:

Each child was seated at a separate station and given the following plush toy or toys: an elephant, which all children saw in the previous experiment; a kangaroo, which only half of the children saw in the previous experiment; or both the elephant and the kangaroo.

In the next example the same principle is applied to a series that includes statistics. Proper and consistent use of commas and semicolons clarifies the grouping of each set of statistics:

The results of Experiment 1 showed a similarity across groups: Group A, t(177) = 3.01, p < .001; Group B, t(173) = 2.31, p < .001; and Group C, t(155) = 3.11, p < .001.

More examples of commas and semicolons within lists can be found in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association on pages 63–65 (3.04 Seriation), on page 88 (4.03 Comma), and on pages 89–90 (4.04 Semicolon).

More to Come

In Part 3, we’ll look at how to use lowercase letters to identify elements of a list in APA Style.

Lists, Part 1  |  Lists, Part 2  |  Lists, Part 3


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