1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Grammar What does '--' mean, and how does it differ from '()'?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Link the Writer, Sep 27, 2015.

    OK, I hope I don't sound too confusing, but I've always wondered the difference between this symbol '--' and the parentheses '()' in terms of grammar in writing.

    That sword (which was a priceless one, mind you) was the one that just went over the cliff.

    That sword -- which was a priceless one, mind you -- was the one that just went over the cliff.

    Basically, how do they work? Are they interchangeable? If they make the sentence different in their own usage, how so? Here's another example, this time through the thought of a character.

    I looked up in time to see Pierce's helicopter (where did he get one?) fly into view.

    I looked up in time to see Pierce's helicopter -- where did he get one? -- fly into view.

    I'm curious if there are any differences in the sentence structure. Thoughts?
     
  2. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The Em-dash can be used in the place of commas, parenthesis, or colons, interchangeably. I think it's quite possibly my favorite punctuation mark, and you probably see me use it all the time. :) Here's a good article for more thorough explanation regarding when one might opt for the Em-dash.

    The All-Powerful Em-Dash
     
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  3. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    I love these!

    Here's how I do it:

    Parentheses (these guys) are used when I want to whisper to my reader. To me, it's a very informal way to caveat something (therefore it doesn't get used in my fiction, just casual posts). Others may disagree. :bigwink:

    Dashes -- these guys -- are used when I want a hard halt, when I really need my reader to pay attention to what I'm saying. And, I do it two ways: open and closed.

    Open: Had she a mind to, she could have splattered his brains onto the back wall of the office and been done with him, but she'd promised him a slow death just an instant ago -- and the gun ripped holes in his leg instead.

    Closed: He smiled nicely as she copied his handling of the incense cone -- now they were twins, how cute -- and this time did not flinch when she changed course, prying in with her questions.
     
  4. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    I don't think your link goes where you think it goes...
     
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  5. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    C'mon people, it's a little thing called a metaphor.
     
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  6. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    @Ben414

    Looked to me like @No-Name Slob was genuinely trying to link an article. Or, did I miss an incredibly subtle joke (or did I miss an obvious one, and am I really dim)?
     
  7. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was just making a joke. I probably should have added a :D since we haven't had enough interaction for you to know that I can be cheeky. Not as cheeky as 123456789, but still cheeky at an above average level.
     
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  8. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    They are the same type of construction, which is called a parenthetical, whether between parentheses or dashes.

    My first impression when I read OP's examples was that the parenthetical between dashes felt more like a hard interruption that I had to comprehend before moving onto the rest of the sentence and the parenthetical between parentheses felt more like an aside that I could skim and that could just as easily be a footnote.

    This confirms my first impression:

    When to choose em dash over parenthesis for parenthetical phrases?
     
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  9. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    Looks like you and I are on exactly the same page. :bigwink:
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I see, so the dashes are more like interruptions (a smack on the reader's face if you will) to get their attention. Something like: I looked up in time to see Pierce in a helicopter -- Oh my God, Pierce is flying a helicopter! -- and felt a trickling, cold liquid running down my leg. This was gonna suck.

    Is there a difference between an open and closed dash? Would this: I looked up in time to see Pierce in a helicopter -- Oh my God, Pierce is flying a helicopter! I mentally swore in horror and felt a trickling, cold liquid running down my leg. This was gonna suck. make better sense with open dashes?

    OK, here's what I think. Closed is an interruption but doesn't segue into the narrative itself, it's more like the narrator him/herself making something aware to the reader. Open is more of the narrator realizing something and the action follows suit.
     
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  11. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    Exactly.

    At least, that's how I do it.

    Your first example reads easier than your second example... the closed dash works there. Open dash, blegh. Not so much. It's clunky and sort of feels like a rambling thought.
     
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  12. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Bahahaha. Oops. But I'm glad you got to see that, because it's hilarious. Anyway -- see what I did there? -- here's the actual article:

    http://www.thepunctuationguide.com/em-dash.html
     
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  13. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I can only speak from my own experiences as a reader, but I tend to get really cross when confronted with (). It feels as if the author didn't even take the time to find the proper way to include the content in the novel.

    But maybe that's just my imagination..
     
  14. Moth
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    Moth Active Member

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    This.

    As an under-educated (and moderately handsome) plebeian, I've learned to focus more on how a sentence sounds and flows over stagnant - if grammatically and prudishly correct - application of punctuation. It all depends on how you want your words to read.
     
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  15. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    I don't think it's just your imagination. The "rule" about parenthetical comments is that you're supposed to use as few as possible, maybe one per page. I say this as someone who habitually overuses both em dashes and parentheses.

    FWIW Strunk and White say "use a dash only when a more common mark of punctuation seems inadequate." Everyone has a different definition of (in)adequate, of course, but it seems our first thought should be of the comma, semicolon, period, or delete key.
     
  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    This is just off the top of my head, but I understand parentheses indicate the inclusion of something that's not absolutely necessary to the structure or meaning of the sentence, but does carry useful information. Useful, but not crucial. This is information that could have been left out, and is of less importance than the rest of the sentence.

    An em-dash, on the other hand, indicates something that doesn't alter the structure of the sentence, but carries crucial information. The impact of the sentence would be weakened if it was left out. It can often indicate a twist in perspective, and/or the personal opinion of the writer.

    In both cases, though, the sentence must stand alone without the parenthetical phrases or what's inside, or comes after, the em-dash. Otherwise, the sentence is grammatically incorrect, or so I believe. I am ready to be proved wrong, though. This is just off the top of my head, and I can't quote any rules about it!

    In dialogue, of course, an em-dash indicates a sharp break in speech. This may or may not indicate a twist or an opinion, and may come at the end as well as the middle of a section of speech. It can simply indicate a thought or speech broken off prematurely. I am not a fan of parentheses in dialogue, because I can't actually 'hear' parentheses reproduced in speech. I would probably use commas in dialogue, when asides of lesser importance appear.
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2015
  17. Tella
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    Tella Member

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    Yo Imaginarily, parenthesis as used to whisper to the reader? What a beautiful way of seeing it! Thank you ma'am for making my day. :)
     
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  18. Burnistine
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    Burnistine Active Member

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    I don't know the correct answer to your question. However, I use the Em-dash in place of a comma or colon. I use parentheses when I want to "add" information for clarity.

    For example: My son went to W.P. (West Point) in the early 1900s. In the early years, the academy had many issues--prejudicial problems, remnants of the civil war to deal with, and poor leadership from political parties.

    Hope I didn't further confuse you.
     
  19. PapaGhanda
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    PapaGhanda Member

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    I hardly use them in my writing unless I'm out of ideas.

    I find the difference between ";" and "." the biggest challenge... please explain to me how they don't pertain to the same idea?
     

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