1. WritingNoob
    Offline

    WritingNoob Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2010
    Messages:
    35
    Likes Received:
    0

    The use of dashes.. really confusing for me

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by WritingNoob, May 6, 2011.

    hey guys, i made a thread about this a while ago, but didn't really use a correct example i wanted to so the thread didn't move to where i wanted it to.

    anyway, i'm still confused on this because they both seem so similar.

    here's an example of the use of the dash: "your assumptions about the study material are correct – most weeks are divided."

    couldn't a dash be used like this:

    "your assumptions about the study material are correct, most weeks are divided."

    this is another great example of what i mean:
    "I’m currently not near you – in the Middle East, on leave and not back until October."

    couldn't it have been written like this with a comma: "I’m currently not near you, in the Middle East, on leave and not back until October."

    but looking at it again, using the comma would make it necessary to say "I’m currently not near you, I'm in the Middle East, on leave and not back until October."

    so using the comma makes it unnecessarily longer?

    thanks guys
     
  2. KP Williams
    Offline

    KP Williams Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2007
    Messages:
    608
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    My place
    I would provide links to some off-site grammar guides, but such links are a criminal offense here. Hope this is the kind of response you were looking for.
     
  3. Trilby
    Offline

    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    69
    Location:
    NE England
    I think that for clarity, in the example you give above, even with the dash you need to say 'I'm in the Middle East'.

    Grammar is my weak point, and as to trying to explain it - even when I know what I'm talking about, I'm even weaker.

    I used the dash above for to avoid using too many commas and the phrase after the dash relates directly to the phrase before the dash. The commas being use in this instance to emphasize the parenthesis - I could have used brackets in place of the commas above.

    I rarely use a dash in my writing - yet here on this forum I use them all the time.

    That's the way I see it. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong.
     
  4. Gothic Vampire Queen
    Offline

    Gothic Vampire Queen Member

    Joined:
    May 6, 2011
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    3
    What about when a character is talking?
     
  5. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,970
    Likes Received:
    5,492
    I think that your commas in these examples are incorrect. However, you could use a semicolon:

    Your assumptions about the study material are correct; most weeks are divided.

    I’m currently not near you; I'm in the Middle East, on leave and not back until October.


    ChickenFreak
     
  6. Trilby
    Offline

    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    69
    Location:
    NE England
    If you live in the UK, I'd stick with commas.
     
  7. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    Well, a comma and em dash are not always interchangeable. Don't start putting a comma instead of an em dash indiscriminately!

    E.g. in these sentences you can have:
    Your assumptions about the study material are correct – most weeks are divided.
    Your assumptions about the study material are correct; most weeks are divided.
    or
    Your assumptions about the study material are correct. Most weeks are divided.
    You cannot use a comma in the above sentence. You are joining two closely related complete sentences. It is wrong to splice them with a comma unless you have a conjunction:
    Your assumptions about the study material are correct, as most weeks are divided.


    But in this example, comma, em dash or brackets are correct:
    I’m currently not near you. I'm away on leave – in the Middle East – and not back until October.
    I’m currently not near you. I'm away on leave, in the Middle East, and not back until October.
    I’m currently not near you. I'm away on leave (in the Middle East) and not back until October.
    Here, you are adding in a bit of extra information.

    Also, in British English we normally punctuate like this for manuscripts:
    Your assumptions are correct – most weeks are divided.
    Whereas for American English, this is common:
    Your assumptions are correct--most weeks are divided.
     
  8. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    I don't see why. We have dashes in the UK too. The rules regarding spacing around them are different, but we have them.
     
  9. Sundae
    Offline

    Sundae Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2011
    Messages:
    362
    Likes Received:
    23
    Location:
    Astral Weeks
    Also... sometimes, a dash is used to show an interjection of separate but related thought inside a sentence.

    I think I used it an example sentence on another thread.

    "That’s when I notice that she’s nervous – she tucked her hair behind her ear – and that I’m nervous too."

    In your example:

    "Your assumptions about the study material are correct – most weeks are divided."

    This has a slightly different meaning than having the same sentence with a comma instead.

    What this sentence tells the reader is that the clause: "most weeks are divided," is an assumption directly derived from studying the study material. If said person did not have these specific study materials, he wouldn't have known that most weeks are divided.


    Whereas in this sentence:

    "Your assumptions about the study material are correct, most weeks are divided."

    Is incorrect. As you need to separate by semi-colon or period.

    "Your assumptions about the study material are correct. Most weeks are divided."

    or

    "Your assumptions about the study material are correct; most weeks are divided."

    What both of these sentences (period/semicolon) tell the reader is that the clause: "most weeks are divided," is an independent clause not necessarily derived from the study material given. The sentence suggest that regardless of the study material, most weeks are divided, and the study material here merely confirm what is already known outside of it.


    In this sentence:

    "I’m currently not near you – in the Middle East, on leave and not back until October."


    This sentence is the joining of two related thoughts in one without having to go through the formality of completing those thoughts. The dashes work in an almost a cause and effect way. I am not near you because I am in the Middle East.

    You can write it this way too:

    "I'm not currently near you since I am on leave for the Military. I'm stationed in the Middle East and won't be back until October. << you're completing your thoughts.

    Most of the ways with working with mainly the original sentence you gave have to use dashes or you're sentence structure would be wrong.

    "I'm not near you since I'm currently on leave in the Middle East - I won't be be back until October."

    You could also do:

    "I'm currently not near you. I'm actually in the Middle East - on leave - and won't be back until October."

    Here you can see the cause and effect. Why is he in the Middle East? It's because he's on leave. The "on leave" serve as an interject of a separate. but related thought used to explain the former part of the sentence.
     
  10. JimFlagg
    Offline

    JimFlagg Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2011
    Messages:
    375
    Likes Received:
    6
    I am not sure if I am doing it right but I sometimes use dashes as a long pause like when some one is talking and thinking at the same time. For the most part, I like using semicolons or conjunctions. And for pauses I sometimes use ellipses.

    Not really an editor my self - I too wonder about these things. :)
     
  11. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    if it's dialog, em dashes aren't used for pauses, ellipses are...
     
  12. WritingNoob
    Offline

    WritingNoob Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2010
    Messages:
    35
    Likes Received:
    0
    thanks. could you explain this one again? are you saying it's wrong to use the comma in that example?

    the bottom line is basically, a semicolon = a dash? in that you're connecting two related, but separate sentences?
     
  13. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    Yes. In this example:
    Your assumptions about the study material are correct.
    Most weeks are divided.
    You are joining two sentences together. You can't do that with a comma, but you can with a semicolon or dash. Alternatively, you can add a word like 'as/but/and' etc after the comma to combine the sentences--the choice of word depends on the meaning you want to give, of course.

    A semicolon is not exactly the same as a dash because it is more informal. You should chose which you want to use according to the register of your writing. A dash is often works for contempory creative writing, and a semicolon is usually better for academic writing, or serious non-fiction. I steer my students away from using dashes in their final year theses, but sometimes if, say, a fashion student has a very light, journalistic style, I think a dash works okay.

    It isn't a good idea to have lots of semicolons or dashes scattered over the page because it becomes intrusive for the reader and can make the writing irritatingly bumpy if it's overdone. The best thing is to have full, complete (this doesn't mean overlong!) sentences which flow one to the other without dashes or semicolons being need, imo.
     
  14. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Mad slightly overstated it with "cannot", but the general rule is that if each part could stand on its own as a complete sentence and there's no conjunction, don't use a comma. There is an exception to the rule if at least one of the sentences is very short (the example I've cited before is "I came, I saw, I conquered"), and "very short" is a subjective judgement. I consider "most weeks are divided" to be borderline.
     
  15. popsicledeath
    Offline

    popsicledeath Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2010
    Messages:
    1,037
    Likes Received:
    71
    This isn't the contemporary convention as far as I understand it. I've been told most agents/publishers these days expect pauses in dialog to be handled with action, as it:

    "Let me think about this," the doctor said, scratching his chin. He walked to the window before a light-bulb lit up over his head. "I believe I know the answer."

    That way, the reader isn't just informed of a pause or made to guess how long a '...' may be intending to be creating a pause for, and instead the writer controls the pause and also is able to add context, which leads to subtext, as well.

    For shorter pauses, commas and periods work well to control rhythm and pacing in dialog, and even when it's not strictly grammatically correct such punctuation can help dictate the way a line is delivered.

    Everything I've seen and been told, ellipses in dialog are strictly for dialog that trails off or can't be heard by the POV/perspective character, and em-dashes are for dialog that was interrupted or halted prematurely.

    Of course, there are no rules right, which is why I sometimes just add in little pictures of unicorns into my dialog as it's sure to cause the reader to pause slightly, eh. ;)
     
  16. Trilby
    Offline

    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    69
    Location:
    NE England
    Maryanne - I was just wondering if you cou/

    April - /NO! don't you dare ask.

    I love the 'unicorn' thing - do you mind if I use it?
     
  17. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    if by 'unicorn thing' you mean the virgule, why should i mind?... however, agents, editors and publishers sure will!
     
  18. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    I thought that unicorns were a way of checking for virgules. ;)
     
  19. popsicledeath
    Offline

    popsicledeath Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2010
    Messages:
    1,037
    Likes Received:
    71
    No, an actual tiny picture of a unicorn. The point is, it's all just subjective and there are no rules, and it's away for me to express my unique genius, so surely it's a grand idea to use a tiny picture of a unicorn for scene breaks instead of the 'standard' pound sign or blank line, right? Because there are no rules and a good writer can many anything work! =D
     
  20. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    No, a good writer will only do what works (even if it breaks the "rules") -- not the same thing at all.
     
  21. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    good point, dig!

    good writers won't do silly stuff just to be different...
     
  22. popsicledeath
    Offline

    popsicledeath Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2010
    Messages:
    1,037
    Likes Received:
    71
    A great write makes things work and invents new working things, not just toes the line with what's worked for others. If we didn't have great writers doing things others said wouldn't work there wouldn't have been any progress in the industry and we'd still all be writing in archaic styles and addressing the reader every other chapter to ensure the reader understands it's a 'true' story and they aren't just making things up like a witch would!

    Who's to judge what works, anyway? Certainly not we who sit here suggesting people do or don't do something before it's even been written. To suggest we know what works without it being done, is a bit pretentious, is it not, or at least breeds the status quo.
     
  23. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Certainly a great writer is likely to experiment. But part of what makes them great is a sense of which experiments to keep and which to throw away.
    1. The market;
    2. Critics;
    3. The author;
    4. Each individual reader;
    5. Posterity.
    Pick as many as you like. Feel free to add to the list.
    Who suggested that?
     
  24. Trilby
    Offline

    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    69
    Location:
    NE England
    The 'unicorn thing' I was joking with popsicledeath - or at least I thought I was.
     
  25. WritingNoob
    Offline

    WritingNoob Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2010
    Messages:
    35
    Likes Received:
    0
    ok, this is still confusing me. can anyone explain when i should use a dash instead of a comma? another thing are semi-colons. when should semi-colons be used?
     

Share This Page