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Course: SAT > Unit 11

Lesson 3: Writing: Grammar

Writing: Punctuating Lists — Video Lesson

David shows you how to approach a Punctuating Lists question on the SAT Writing and Language test. Created by David Rheinstrom.

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  • piceratops seedling style avatar for user imkaustubhgupta
    i didnt understand the exapmple you gave for the semicolon for the cities. Why cant we just use a comma and and "and"
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user JMJ001
      If you replaced the semicolons with commas in that list of cities (which are in the form of city, country/state), it'd get pretty hard to read as you wouldn't be able to distinguish between the commas separating the cities from the countries/states and the commas separating the items in the list:
      "I've been to Paris, France, Paris, Texas, Lima, Peru, and Lima, Illinois."

      So whenever at least one thing you're listing contains commas, you'll need to put semicolons between each item. Here are two more examples:
      I threw the airplane into the sink and soaked the left wing; the right wing, which is on the left; and the funny-looking tip.
      Mistakes the U.S. made at Yalta: it gave Russia too much power in the West—control of a railroad, port, and three naval bases in Asia; three votes in the United Nations; domination of the Polish government; and the use of Germans in forced labor for ten years after the war.
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user col
    yo Kahn I need clarification
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user juacu
    Isnt ;FANBOYS always wrong?
    (1 vote)
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    • female robot amelia style avatar for user Johanna
      No, it can be correct to put a coordinating conjunction after a semicolon when you have a complex list: when the list’s elements need commas of their own. Here’s an example: “The train serviced Niagara Fall, Ontario; New York, New York; and Boston, Massachusetts.”

      Khan Academy’s Grammar course also has a lesson on the semicolon, if you want to check that out.
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

- [Instructor] Let's take a look at question one here. So I will read us in. The US healthcare system has made significant strides in the implementation of systems that manage electronic health records which include information such as a patient's medical history, medications currently prescribed, and a list of allergies. Okay, and so there's our underlined portion, and what's changing here in these choices is all punctuation it looks like. So choice A, the no change option, has a comma between prescribed and and. Choice B replaces that comma with a semicolon. Choice C replaces that comma with a colon, and choice D puts the comma after the and. So let's step back and look at the context. This punctuation comes in the middle of a list of items included in an electronic health record, right? So we've got medical history, medications currently prescribed, and a list of allergies. Those are the three items. So we're being asked to best punctuate this list. Your official SAT will have one to two questions like this, here's the rundown. Are there three or more items in a list? If so, punctuate, and you need to separate them with punctuation. If there's two items in a list, they don't need punctuation. Here are our three top tips for questions like these. First, be consistent, in a list the items should all be separated by the same type of punctuation marks. So if you see other examples of punctuation, follow the pattern. Second, never use colons or dashes in a list. Commas and semicolons are the only punctuation marks we use to punctuate a list, so you can knock out any other punctuation that you see. Colons can introduce lists, but they can't separate the elements in a list. Colons aren't used as punctuation between the elements of a list. And third, the punctuation comes before the and. Any list of three or more requires an and or an or, and the punctuation mark comes before it, not after. As in eggs comma, cheese comma, and bread. It goes before and not after the and. All right, let's go back to the question. And if you want, you can pause the video here and see if you can answer this question without me. Okay, let's do it together. All right, I'm gonna apply my top tips, and first I'm gonna look for other kinds of punctuation marks in this list. The list begins with information such as a patient's medical history, comma. Cool, that's our answer. It was that simple. The answer is A, no change. That took me like five seconds. I'll prove it to you. Choice C uses a colon which we know from our top tips that's not used to punctuate a list. We can knock that out. Now to be clear, of course yes, you can introduce a list with a colon, but you don't use a colon as punctuation between the elements of a list. Choice D puts the comma after the and which isn't right, right? That's another top tip, we can knock that out. And choice B uses a semicolon which can be used to punctuate a list but only complex lists like say lists of cities where commas are already used within the listed term. I'll show you. I've been to Paris, France, Paris, Texas, Lima, Peru, and Lima, Illinois, right? You can see how these comma-separated items are themselves separated by semicolons. That's a complex list. What we're looking at here is not a complex list, so we don't need that semicolon For questions like these, remember those top tips. Be consistent in your punctuation, avoid colons or dashes in a list, and make sure punctuation comes before the and or the or. Good luck out there, you've got this.