3 Cases of Faulty Organization of In-Line Lists

By Mark Nichol

An in-line list is a list of related words or phrases within a sentence, as opposed to a vertical list, the items of which are formatted on separate lines, often highlighted by a number or a bullet. Often, writers mistakenly organize in-line lists, erroneously assuming that an additional but syntactically distinct item is part of the list and inserting or omitting conjunctions (usually and or or) or punctuation incorrectly as a result. Each example below illustrates a variation on this theme, and each is followed by a discussion and a revision.

1. Professor Smith’s comments are utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and do not in any way reflect the values of the university.

Because the phrase beginning with do has its own verb, it is not part of a list beginning with “utterly reprehensible” and continuing with “deeply disturbing,” so those two phrases should be linked with a conjunction, and the commas that follow them must be omitted: “Professor Smith’s comments are utterly reprehensible and deeply disturbing and do not in any way reflect the values of the university.”

2. Thousands of the organization’s workers face resistance, fear—and terrorists—as they try to eradicate the crippling disease.

Similarly, the parenthetical phrase “and terrorists” is not part of a list that also includes resistance and fear; those two terms constitute the list, and “and terrorists” is distinct, so the treatment of the list must be revised: “Thousands of the organization’s workers face resistance and fear—and terrorists—as they try to eradicate the crippling disease.”

3. Traditional financial institutions have significantly enhanced their risk and compliance programs by increasing resources, clarifying roles and responsibilities across the three lines of defense, upgrading their governance frameworks, as well as maintaining higher levels of capital.

“Maintaining higher levels of capital” is not part of the list in this sentence—“as well as” marks the phrase consisting of those eight words as a distinct appendage tacked onto the main clause—so the final item in the list must be preceded by a conjunction: “Traditional financial institutions have significantly enhanced their risk and compliance programs by increasing resources, clarifying roles and responsibilities across the three lines of defense, and upgrading their governance frameworks, as well as maintaining higher levels of capital.”

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2 Responses to “3 Cases of Faulty Organization of In-Line Lists”

  • Mark Nichol

    Ken:
    Other than in a computer-programming context, in-line is styled as such in American English, though in British English the compound is closed. (This is anomalous, because in the evolution of compound words from open to hyphenated to closed, British English tends to retain hyphenation longer than American English does.)

  • Ken Devine

    Surprised you’re hyphenating “in-line” — kind of like how people used to hyphenate “on-line.”

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