Let's Make a List
by Cherie Tucker
Enumerated lists that follow colons have some rules you might like
to know. First, if you have a list, whether enumerated or in
bullets, you must have at least two items. Every 1.
must have a 2.; every A. must have a B.; every
bullet must have a companion bullet. Next, the first word of every
listed item must begin with a capital letter. Also, all the listed
items must be in parallel construction—either all complete
sentences, similar fragments, or the same parts of speech. (You
want your readers to be able to scan what you have written easily
without having to mentally correct it.) For example, here’s what
you just read in a list format:
Enumerated lists must follow certain rules:
The first word of
each item must be capitalized.
There must be at
least two items in the list.
The listed items must
be in parallel construction.
These items don’t have to be in sentences. Here’s another
Enumerated lists must:
Have the first word
Contain at least two
Be in parallel
And yet another:
Enumerated lists must contain the following things:
At least two items
Notice that the first two lists end with periods. They do so
because in the first example they are all sentences, and in the
second, each item completes the interrupted sentence that introduces
the list. In the third example, the introduction is a complete
sentence, ending with the “complete stop” colon. The listed items
are just short phrases, like a shopping list, and don’t require any
punctuation. Longer phrases or clauses in that construction,
however, should end with periods, but no commas or semicolons.
People used to put either commas or semicolons at the end of each
item and then use and before the last item, but it’s not done
any more. When you stack the items, you have eliminated the need
for punctuation. If you want punctuation, don’t use the list
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to
professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.
She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the
University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits