1. WritingNoob
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    WritingNoob Member

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    When to use a dash(-) and comma (,)?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by WritingNoob, Sep 19, 2010.

    hey guys, could someone tell me the difference between these two? i don't know when to use either one. i'm reading a book on writing and the author uses it quite frequently:

    "But not all of them — these partners, these old hands, these professionals — were using language to make things clear."

    i just can't see the difference between these two.

    thanks
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi WN
    In your example, the writer is using a dash in place of brackets, not commas.

    But not all of them — these partners, these old hands, these professionals — were using language to make things clear.
    OR
    But not all of them (these partners, these old hands, these professionals) were using language to make things clear.

    Dashes don't change the meaning, just give the writing a slightly more informal feel.

    You see the dashes are used in a pair, to 'sandwich' the extra information within the main sentence, which is:

    But not all of them were using language to make things clear.

    You can also use one dash instead of a semicolon (again, not a comma) to join on extra information or a related sentence at the end of the main sentence, e.g.

    But not everyone was using language to make things clear — there were many partners, old hands, and professionals who did not.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Parenthetical expressions can be set off with commas, em-dashes, or parentheses, in order of increasing intensity of the separation form the running context.

    In fiction, the use of parentheses is the least preferred choice.

    In your example, the commas are list separators, not used parenthetically. However, because the parenthetical part itself contains commas, em-dashes provide a clearer separation of the parenthetical part from the main body of the sentence.

    A parenthetical phrase provides supplementary information to the reader.

    Consider these two sentences:

    Matt's brother John accompanied him on his fishing trip.
    Matt's brother, John, acccompanied him on his fishing trip.

    The first sentence clearly indicates which of Matt's brothers accompanied him. If Matt has more than one brother, naming which brother is considered essential information. It is selective.

    In the second sentence, The parenthetical John supplies additional information. Only one brother is considered plausible for the context, and by the way, his name is John. Matt could have other brothers (one is an infant and too young for fishing trips, the other is overseas in the military), but there is only one brother we would consider a candidate for a fishing companion. The key is that John is used non-selectively.
     
  4. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you check the example sentence given by the OP you will notice that commas would not be clear in place of dashes, because of the other commas in the sentence. However, brackets are. This is the most classic case of brackets/dashes being necessary.
    I agree with you about commas for your example, though, Cogito.
     
  5. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    A single m-dash is also a great alternative to the controversial semicolon -- nobody seem to mind it much.
     
  6. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    Please correct me if I'm wrong, dashes can also function as an interjection within a sentence, right?

    "The opened garbage bag - and boy did it stink! - was filled with week-old lettuce and meat products."

    I do have doubts with my punctuation sometimes. I need to get "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," for the sake of learning and owning the renowned book.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    mad...

    [ ] are brackets...

    ( ) are parentheses...

    where do you see brackets?... or are you suggesting they be used?
     
  8. Trevor
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    Trevor Member

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    Bracket is an umbrella term that covers ('s, ['s, {'s etc.
     
  9. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I go on the fact that [these] are called "square brackets" :p

    I like using dashes because they're very informal... My writing jumps in and out of formal and informal a lot, and I like that I can show which one I'm writing in by whether I've used dashes or semicolons.

    Proving I'm being silly is one of my big problems... I'm hardly serious about anything, and wild mood swings in a narrative need to be marked out somehow. :p

    Anyway, I use dashes a lot as informal commas - I tend to think in dashes more than commas. I spend a lot of time editing them back out when I realise my paragraphs are looking kinda stripy. Like many things I know are wrong in writing, I can't stop myself from doing it. :p
     
  10. Zombie_Chinchilla
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    :p :D

    I was just wondering about this. I think, that when it's not necessary, I prefer dashs.
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    We say 'brackets' in the UK, not parentheses, regardless of whether they are normal, square, curly etc. I'm surprised you don't know this maia! It's like telling me to call a full stop a 'period'. Sorry, I tend not to use American terms.
    'Parentheses' in the UK means something that you add as an aside or a notation. It is not used as a term for punctuation.
     
  12. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm pretty sure I was taught a name for {curly brackets} in school, but darned if I can remember it now. :p

    To Wikipedia!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parenthesis#Curly_brackets_.7B_.7D

    ... wtf, I was taught "flower brackets" ... That's not my American side showing through, that's just odd. :p
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry, i forgot about british differences...
     
  14. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    No problem. These are some examples of 'parentheses' for English other than American English:

    - My favourite group – The Tin Men – is playing at the Apollo.
    - During the match, which took place under very adverse weather conditions, four players were injured.
    - The Southampton Ripper (Arnie Arckle) was sentenced for life.
    - I rarely drink; however, I enjoy champagne on special occasions.
     

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