As with anything in grammar, correct punctuation for lists, dates and addresses gives clarity to your words. Without the correct punctuation, your words can sometimes make your intended meaning disappear. While there are specific rules that always apply to dates and addresses, list punctuation varies across different style guides when they apply or by your preferences.
Vertical list types
Lists that are vertical, also known as display lists, are useful tools to provide information in a clear, concise and easy-to-scan format. These lists are created with list items displayed by bullet points, numbers (1) or letters (a). Which format is really a matter or preference based on the specific information. Numbers or letters, for example, are useful if you need to list things in a specific order, with both proving convenient when it is necessary to refer back to an item in a list later in the piece.
There are four rules you should generally follow, and they include:
- Consider each list as a separate thing to punctuate.
- Remain consistent with how you punctuate all lists within the same piece.
- Use the same punctuation that would naturally occur if the list were in sentence form.
- Vary the type of vertical lists used based on the information you are presenting, even within the same piece.
How to punctuate list lead-ins
Whenever you are using a vertical list, you write some sort of preamble to it, a lead-in, that introduces the list. Whether punctuation is required following a lead-in depends on both if the lead-in is an independent sentence and if the items in the list are independent sentences. Consider the following examples:
Example 1: Lead-in – “Lists types are”
Example 2: Lead in – “A lead-in is followed by with one of three ways to punctuate:
- No punctuation
Example 3: Lean-in – “Deciding how to punctuate is about looking at the grammatical structure of the lead-in. (A semicolon could easily replace the period.)
- When the lead-in is not a complete sentence on its own, the items in a list complete the lead-in to form a complete sentence and a colon is not the natural punctuation following the phrasing, neither a colon nor a comma is used (illustrated above in Example 1).
- When words such as “the following things,” “in the below examples” or a similar type of phrasing are in the lead-in, a colon is used, and if the lead-in is naturally followed by one in regular sentence construction, meaning it stands alone as a sentence, a colon is appropriate for list items that are not complete sentences (illustrated above in Example 2).
- When the lead-in is an independent sentence and the items in the list are also complete sentences, a period is usually used to punctuate the lead-in. A colon is acceptable as well, though (illustrated with this example).
How to punctuate list items
Items in a list use commas, semicolons or periods as punctuation. How the lists are punctuated when they are contained within a sentence dictates which is appropriate. There is one exception, though, for one-word list items.
When the list items finish the thought or sentence that is initiated in the lead-in, a comma or semi-colon is sometimes used; however, you can omit the punctuation if you prefer. Commas are best used when there is nothing complex in the list items, such as other punctuation, and semicolons are best when the list items are complex or contain other punctuation. The ending punctuation is a period when commas or semicolons are used. Some styles guides also require the use of “and” in the second to last list item, but unless specifically required, this is optional. Consider the following examples:
Example 4: Make sure to bring
- Toothpaste and a toothbrush,
- Shampoo and conditioner,
- Body wash and lotion.
Example 5: Make sure to bring
- Bathroom toiletries, such as toothpaste, shampoos and lotion;
- Warm clothes for outside, such as a hat, mittens and a scarf;
- Some warm drinks for afterward, such as hot cocoa or coffee.
When each list item is an independent sentence, use a period at the end of each (see Example 3 above), especially when a list item is more than one sentence.
One-word list items that do complete a sentence when combined with a lead-in (illustrated above in Example 2), do not need any type of ending punctuation.
Alternatively, you may also use periods at the end of every list item, regardless of whether each is a complete sentence, for example:
Example 6: Remember the following items:
The most important thing to do when there is not a specific rule that applies from the style guide you are following is to stay consistent with how you punctuate lists. If you use ending punctuation in one, you must use it in any vertical list within the same piece. Likewise, if you use the subjective “and” above the last item of a list in one list, you must use it in every list used in the same piece.
How to punctuate dates
When dates fall within the sentences of your written pieces, it is important to punctuate them correctly. Commas are used between the date and the year and following the year if the date is at the beginning or middle of a sentence. If the day of the week is present, a comma follows it, too. European formatting of dates does not require the use of commas. Consider the following examples:
- Kendra was born on October 28, 1992.
- She was born on Sunday, October 28, 1992.
- On October 28, 1992, Kendra was born.
- She was born on 25 October 1992 (European format).
If only the year and the month or the year is used, no commas are necessary. See the below examples:
- In October 1992 is when she was born.
- The year of 1992 marks the date of her birth.
When addresses fall within a sentence, it is important to use punctuation to separate the information to make it easy to read and understand. Commas are used to separate cities/towns and the state or countries in which they reside. If a location is listed at the beginning or middle of a sentence, a comma must also follow the state or country. When a mailing address is written out in a sentence, commas are used to separate the street address from the city/town. If a zip code is included, the state abbreviation is used instead of the state name, with no comma between the state and the zip code. Consider the following examples, which all show the correct way to incorporate an address into sentences:
Example 1: Sandra was from St. Louis, Missouri.
Example 2: She also lived in Paris, France, for a few years.
Example 3: Her address was 15 Main Street, St. Louis, Missouri.
Example 4: Her address growing up was 15 Main Street, St. Louis, MO 63114.