Tags:
  1. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England

    Dash or comma?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by OurJud, May 30, 2009.

    I'm never sure if additional info, placed mid sentence like this, should be between commas or dashes. What's the difference?

    I'm never sure if additional info - placed mid sentence like this - should be between commas or dashes. What's the difference?
     
  2. garmar69
    Offline

    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,550
    Likes Received:
    26
    It depends on how much emphasis you want to place on the additional information. Dashes give the greatest emphasis, followed by commas, then parentheses as the least emphatic.
     
  3. TheNewGuy
    Offline

    TheNewGuy Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2009
    Messages:
    183
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    America
    Never forget the semicolon; it's a multipurpose conjunction, easy to misuse--I do it all the time.

    I used 3 there...try to find the words that they replace, then make a correlation. Most importantly find out if you could do without them, and what they add to the sentence instead. Most importantly, write it how you would say it. I am a comma nazi when I review stories...it really bugs me now.
     
  4. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England
    Thanks, both of you. That makes my understanding much clearer.
     
  5. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    If you are using dashes, they should be em dashes, not hyphens. An em dash is indicated in manuscript by two hyphens:
    Or you can use real em dashes, usually generated by your word processing program if you type --:
    You can never go wrong by putting -- in the manuscript instead of —. A publisher might not see that you know the difference between - and — if you insert em dashes directly.
     
  6. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    ditto what cog said... and you should not use both a semicolon and an em dash in the same sentence!
     
  7. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    Pairs of commas and em-dashes perform similar functions, but a comma is less intrusive and an em-dash is more informal.

    I wouldn't use a (formal) semicolon and a (more informal) em-dash together in a sentence, and the two together make the sentence look over-punctuated, but I take it this is a matter of style, maia? Or is there actually a rule on this?
     
  8. TragicJuliet
    Offline

    TragicJuliet Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2009
    Messages:
    192
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Arizona, US
    Punctuation, I think anyways, is so controversial and some in a matter of opinion which makes it a bit more difficult. Then of course you have those big time authors who break all the rules and you're like "well they did it, why can't I!"
     
  9. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    if there ain't no rule agin' it, mad, there sure as bleep should be! ;-)
     
  10. architectus
    Offline

    architectus Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Messages:
    1,796
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Ca
    Garmar said what I was going to say.
     
  11. Ghosts in Latin
    Offline

    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2009
    Messages:
    129
    Likes Received:
    2
    Why not? :confused:
     
  12. Kas
    Offline

    Kas Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2009
    Messages:
    567
    Likes Received:
    18
    Location:
    The ***hole of the world
    I think it's just a case of overpunctuating. A sentence like that can always be split in two/rephrased and look better for it. I'm starting to see punctuation marks as somewhat of a crutch. Walking without crutches looks like fun, so I'm trying to cut down.

    I've encountered some writing where the author hardly ever used so much as a comma. It's a style I'd like to emulate since it flows so beautifully. You have to admit that commas, dashes and semicolons are a lot like bumps in the road. I don't see the good in littering one's work with pot holes.
     
  13. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    because it's overkill, confusing, and incorrect usage, that's why...
     
  14. garmar69
    Offline

    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,550
    Likes Received:
    26
    Semicolons and em dashes are oft used correctly by most writers; some do not, but correct usage can be learned--if one cares to anyway.

    The semicolon separates complimentary main clauses that aren't linked by a coordinating conjunction and the em dash indicates a shift in tone, resulting in a correctly punctuated sentence.

    You can argue that the punctuation in the above sentence should be replaced by a comma and conjunction, or make full stops, but then we're discussing stylistic preferences, aren't we?

    Still, I respectfully disagree with the statement that an em dash and a semicolon should not be used in the same sentence.
     
  15. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Sorry, garmar, I'm with Maia on this one. Any such sentence is guaranteed to stagger like a drunk in an earthquake.
     
  16. garmar69
    Offline

    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,550
    Likes Received:
    26
    I haven't been able to find a rule anywhere backing up this statement though. Can you point us to a source that states the same? I'm very curious about this because the sentence I constructed above appears to be properly punctuated, and backed up by information in my Little, Brown Handbook.
     
  17. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    As maia said, if it isn't a rule, it should be. Some constructs, while syntactically legal, are simply not a good idea.

    Semicolons are greatly overused as it is. They are often the result of indecision. The author fails to commit between a compound sentence joined with a comma and a conjunction and two sentences separated by a full stop. To combine that wishy-washy joining with the strong pauses of em dashes, and you can see why I raised the drunk in an earthquake metaphor.

    Handbooks don't cover every possible combination of syntactic construct. They can't. Maybe someone will come up with a sentence for which a semicolon and em dashes are effective, but I think it would be like mining for diamonds in a tar pit. And I would bet that same sentence would work even better by changing the punctuation.
     
  18. garmar69
    Offline

    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,550
    Likes Received:
    26
    I get your point about em dashes, I think. :redface: But what about the stigma being attached to the poor semicolon as "way overused"?

    I guess the old ways of punctuating are changing? It does say (in my LBH)to only use a dash where needed. But I wonder why the change from using a semicolon when there is no coordinating conjunction, to using a comma there with a conjunction. Take the sentence I wrote: Semicolons and em dashes are oft used correctly by most writers; some do not, but correct usage can be learned--if one cares to anyway.

    Today it's more acceptable to write: Semicolons and em dashes are oft used correctly by most writers, but some do not. Correct usage can be learned--if one cares to anyway. Or drop the "anyway" on the end and drop the em dash, but that would change the intended meaning somewhat.

    Which is how I would write that sentence(s) anyway, so I'm just being difficult for discussions sake. :p

    But, was it always frowned upon? Or has punctuation changed? I've been reading a book called Eats, Shoots and Leaves and the author uses semicolons ALOT. Apparently her book is an example of the old ways (that are changing rapidly) of punctuating sentences with liberal use of semicolons. Or is she a quack that I shouldn't be listening to?

    Sorry if I'm pulling this thread off course, but this is fascinating stuff. :)
     
  19. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    British writers use semicolons FREQUENTLY. It is purely a matter of taste and register. A semicolon is slightly more formal, but then British English is often slightly older style/more formal anyway. There is NOTHING WRONG with using semicolons in the correct way for a readership that expects and is used to them. If US readers don't like semicolons, okay we won't use them for stuff we submit for a US readership only. I refer you to 'The Remains of the Day' Kazuo Ishiguro, a British (of Japanese ancestry) author. He uses semicolons all the time but he has a very uncluttered style. And he won the Booker Prize. So please don't tell us semicolons are 'wrong'.
     
  20. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    i wouldn't and don't say they are wrong...

    but i do say that in fiction written for an american market, they are a poor choice, since american readers aren't used to seeing them in fiction and in all cases, a comma, period, em dash, or conjunction will do a much better job...
     
  21. garmar69
    Offline

    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,550
    Likes Received:
    26
    I got a very good explanation today for why a semicolon and a em dash shouldn't be used in the same sentence. I know...I should have just taken maia's word for it, but I'm stubborn and have to know. Teach a man how to fish and all that.

    The reason is because a semicolon is for joining separate main clauses not joined by a coordinating conjunction, or separating complimentary main clauses that are related by a conjunctive adverb. Using an em dash anywhere in the same sentence will tear away from one of the main clauses and make no sense in the sentence because an em dash indicates an abrupt change in tone. Thus, if a sentence uses an em dash, it must be in a sentence with one main clause.

    I think I have that right. Someone school me if part, or all, of it's wrong. :p
     
  22. afinemess
    Offline

    afinemess Active Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2009
    Messages:
    253
    Likes Received:
    10
    I'm a comma girl. I agree dashes can make more of an impact, though.

    Never in my life can I recall using a semicolon, for anything! I don't know why.
     
  23. lynneandlynn
    Offline

    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2009
    Messages:
    746
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Asheville, NC
    My personal opinion is that if you find yourself using both a semi-colon and an em-dash in the same sentence...go back to the semi-colon and turn it into an em-dash too. A phrase with a short pause caused by a semi-colon joined with a strong pause caused by an em-dash is torturous to look at. The example Garmar posted I had to read three times before I felt like I got the message, simply because of how over-punctuated it was.

    "Semicolons and em dashes are oft used correctly by most writers; some do not, but correct usage can be learned--if one cares to anyway. " (Garmar)

    That could easily read Semicolons and em-dashes are oft used correctly by most writers--some do not, but correct usage can be learned--if one cares to anyway. Actually, to be honest, that entire sentence is just badly constructed.
     

Share This Page