My question focuses on punctuation in vertical lists where items are not sentences.

In English, each item in the list ends with , (except the last one which ends with .):

  • all single words of the same part of speech (e.g., all nouns, all adjectives, all verbals),
  • all phrases of the same structure (e.g., all verbal phrases, all noun phrases, all prepositional phrases),
  • all subordinate clauses, or
  • all main clauses (i.e., full sentences).

In French, each item in the list ends with ; (except the last one which ends with .).

Il y a trois étapes qui sont comprises dans l’évaluation des risques :

  • l’identification des facteurs ;
  • classement par priorité ;
  • classification.

Is there a reason why French an English don't use the same punctuation mark for this usage?

  • There is no obvious or well-documented reason, but your comprehension of the rule is OK, cf. fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Ronan
    Jun 19, 2014 at 14:32

1 Answer 1


as I know, we use the semi-colon (';') to express multiple choices. For example, when you start a letter (a mail) you could put:

Madame ; monsieur, bonsoir,

Since we have a couple of independent proposals from each other here ("Madame" and "monsieur"), we use a semi-colon to separate them. It has some kind of "pick your favourite option" function.

Here's the French Wikipedia definition:

Le point-virgule est un signe de ponctuation représenté par une virgule surmontée d’un point, principalement utilisé pour séparer des propositions indépendantes dans une phrase.

I've translated it in English (sorry if it's not perfect) :

The semi-colon is a punctuation sign represented by a comma surmounted by a point, mainly used to separate independents proposals in a sentence.

[Source - Wikipédia FR]

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