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Thread: can we talk about dashes?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW Jan74's Avatar
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    can we talk about dashes?

    I'm just learning about em dashes and en dashes, hyphens I get.
    Here's my question, has the em dash replaced the comma in writing? It's not something I remember learning in school so I've been reading up on the correct usage and now returning to the begging of my novel to edit out my commas. When I read proper grammar articles it seems as if the em dash is a replacement for commas and parenthesis. I would like an editor or someone knowledgeable with this to tell me if a piece of work is filled with comma's are the commas mostly replaced?

    Or is there over use of the em dash? I'm not to worried about the en dash, it's more the em dash that has me a bit overwhelmed if that is the appropriate term to use.

    ok thank you for anyone who can shed some light on the issue I'll be dashing along now lol
    Last edited by Jan74; 03-07-2017 at 07:42 PM.

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  2. #2
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jan74 View Post
    Here's my question, has the em dash replaced the comma in writing?
    Gosh, I hope not.

    The em-dash is used for abrupt transitions, or to set off material more fully than commas would. So, for example, I could write: "So--for example--I could write," but that feels like too aggressive of a break. Commas are right there. In another case, though--one where the break is more complete--the em-dash is appropriate.

  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW Calder's Avatar
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    This may help http://www.thepunctuationguide.com/em-dash.html

    The decision whether to use commas, parentheses, or dashes is a personal choice, based on which you think allows for easier expression and reading. You can, of course ring the changes between them, although this could easily serve to confuse / disturb your reader. If I started replacing paretheses with em-dashes, I wouldn't suddenly switch back during a narrative, but I have and do use both commas and em-dashes in the same piece, with the em-dash serving to indicate 'asides' to the reader, while commas serve for normal phrases in apposition etc. So long as your narrative flows and you are consistent, you can take your pick. It's not a question of 'replacing all your commas.' Look at each sentence and decide whether commas suffice, or whether you need that little bit of extra separation and emphasis em-dashes seem to provide.
    Last edited by Calder; 03-08-2017 at 03:35 AM.
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  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jan74 View Post
    I'm just learning about em dashes and en dashes, hyphens I get.
    Here's my question, has the em dash replaced the comma in writing? It's not something I remember learning in school so I've been reading up on the correct usage and now returning to the begging of my novel to edit out my commas. When I read proper grammar articles it seems as if the em dash is a replacement for commas and parenthesis. I would like an editor or someone knowledgeable with this to tell me if a piece of work is filled with comma's are the commas mostly replaced?

    Or is there over use of the em dash? I'm not to worried about the en dash, it's more the em dash that has me a bit overwhelmed if that is the appropriate term to use.

    ok thank you for anyone who can shed some light on the issue I'll be dashing along now lol
    Good sweet lord, no. Please do not just start replacing your commas with em dashes.

    It's true that, in many instances, the em dash and the comma may be used interchangeably. That does not mean one supersedes the other. In situations in which either is appropriate, the choice is simply stylistic. The same way that a semicolon, a period, and a comma and conjunction can all be used to join two independent clauses at the writer's discretion, a comma and an em dash can be used interchangeably. There are circumstances a dash is more appropriate, but in places either can do, either can do.

    Also, a manuscript would look hella fucking odd if every comma were replaced by a dash. I'm an em dash addict and I can't even imagine what a mess that'd be.

  5. #5
    Preparing for winter VeryBigBeard's Avatar
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    I really--do like--using--a very, very--large--number of--em-dashes.

    That doesn't--however--mean you should--use them--everywhere.

    You--do--not--want--your--manuscript--to--look--like--this. Some readers--find it a bit--jarring. Can't think--why.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW Jan74's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cornflake View Post
    Good sweet lord, no. Please do not just start replacing your commas with em dashes.

    It's true that, in many instances, the em dash and the comma may be used interchangeably. That does not mean one supersedes the other. In situations in which either is appropriate, the choice is simply stylistic. The same way that a semicolon, a period, and a comma and conjunction can all be used to join two independent clauses at the writer's discretion, a comma and an em dash can be used interchangeably. There are circumstances a dash is more appropriate, but in places either can do, either can do.

    Also, a manuscript would look hella fucking odd if every comma were replaced by a dash. I'm an em dash addict and I can't even imagine what a mess that'd be.
    Quote Originally Posted by VeryBigBeard View Post
    I really--do like--using--a very, very--large--number of--em-dashes.

    That doesn't--however--mean you should--use them--everywhere.

    You--do--not--want--your--manuscript--to--look--like--this. Some readers--find it a bit--jarring. Can't think--why.
    Both of you have me in tears laughing!!!!
    So I got a little em dash happy for a moment and thought to myself... hmmm I best do some more research and a great blogger set me straight comparing his em dash addiction to smoking... which I thought was hilarious. So I think I have a better grasp on where to use them, I hope. So no I have not replaced all of my comas and semi colons with em-dash's... but I am glad I discovered them!
    Thanks everyone!

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  7. #7
    At one with The Force Keithy's Avatar
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    I use em dashes (ie, long dashes) for people who are interrupting each other, usually when they are having an argument.

    Hyphens (en dashes) I use mostly to join two adjectives to make another one. ie "yellow-brown" or "well-practiced". I avoid using them otherwise.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Keithy View Post
    Hyphens (en dashes) I use mostly to join two adjectives to make another one. ie "yellow-brown" or "well-practiced".
    A hyphen is correct in that context; an en dash is not. They're different marks of punctuation and serve different purposes.

  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW Freya Yuki's Avatar
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    Thanks for the link about the em dash. Am also trying to learn more about it. The link said the em dash is typically used without spaces, but it could also be used with spaces on either side. Which one is the preferred way when it comes to writing stories? Or can it be either?

    Also, can I add punctuation within an em dash? For example, is this correct:

    He swiped a hand across his eyes, blinking the sweat—of course, it was sweat. What else could it be?—out of them.

    Or should it be:

    He swiped a hand across his eyes, blinking the sweat— of course, it was sweat. What else could it be?— out of them.

    If the interrupted dialog is a question, do you need a question mark after the em dash? I've seen it done both ways and not sure which one is correct. For example:

    “What are you talking—”

    “What are you talking—?”

    What if the em dash shows up before the dialog? Should there be a space? For example:

    If he was telling the truth— “You said something..."

    If he was telling the truth—“You said something..."

    Which one is correct?
    Last edited by Freya Yuki; 05-14-2017 at 04:07 PM.
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  10. #10
    A Gritty, Delicate Elegy TaylorSaville's Avatar
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    As someone who overuses commas, I cannot imagine using a dash. Though when dialog is interrupted I've never known exactly how to execute that. I'm dealing with that in my new novel I'm editing now.
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  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW Jan74's Avatar
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    Freya-I think if you post those sentences in a new post you'll get tonnes of feedback, but since they are buried in this thread they may not get noticed. I think with anything as long as you are consistent with however you choose to use the em-dash. Another tip is to find your favorite author and copy them.

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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by TaylorSaville View Post
    As someone who overuses commas, I cannot imagine using a dash.
    Be more imaginative, see what other good writers do with these forms of punctuation, and consult a good grammar/style resource (I suggest Purdue OWL).

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  13. #13
    I aim to misbehave Myrealana's Avatar
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    My name is Myrea and I'm an em-dash addict.

    It's been, oh, about three paragraphs since I've used a dash. TIME TO USE IT AGAIN!
    -- Myrea
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Freya Yuki View Post

    “What are you talking—”

    “What are you talking—?”

    Which one is correct?
    I leave the question mark out in instances like that. Not 100% sure it's correct, but I view it as they were interrupted before they finished saying the question. You know how we typically raise in pitch at the end when something is a question? They were interrupted right before that moment, so to me, the question mark wouldn't be there.

  15. #15
    Come on you stranger, you legend, Devil Ledbetter's Avatar
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    The em dash is wonderful in that it can make a sentence spin on a dime, but in no way should it replace the comma entirely. When I'm editing other people's work in my day job, I see a heavy reliance on the em dash as a symptom of disorganized writing.

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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Keithy View Post
    I use em dashes (ie, long dashes) for people who are interrupting each other, usually when they are having an argument.
    Same here, though I do occasionally use them when a train of thought or an action is disrupted rather than limiting it solely to dialogue. I do try to keep it sparing though.
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  17. #17
    permaflounced
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    Hi,

    Why is it called an 'em dash' and not just a 'dash' please?

    Ta,

    Paul

  18. #18
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by monsterjazzlicks View Post
    Hi,

    Why is it called an 'em dash' and not just a 'dash' please?

    Ta,

    Paul
    An em-dash takes up the same width, in broad terms, as an M.

    An en-dash (used mostly to indicate serialized numbers like page numbers pp. 34–45, or dates 1976–89) takes up the width of an N.

  19. #19
    permaflounced
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    Thanks AW,

    I appreciate the links.

    Thats very interesting as some PC's automatically decide upon the size om the 'dash'. In class, different people's laptops conjure different sizes. I mean, some make a long dash, a short dash, while others create two dashes! (ie. --).

    Ta,

    Paul

  20. #20
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin skyhawk0's Avatar
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    As it didn't get noted, the way to create an em-dash on a PC is to hold down your ALT key and type '0151' on the numeric keypad. Note that your NUM LOCK has to be on and it has to be your numeric keypad. Most laptops have a way to turn some of the letter keys into a temporary numeric keypad with a function key, but it's a pain.

    When Word turns a double-hyphen into an em-dash, its actually a character proprietary to the program and not the proper ASCII symbol. These days, that's not a big issue, but it used to be that all those proprietary characters would get scrambled in other programs. You'd see early webpages with weird characters all over, replacing apostrophes, quotation marks, em-dashes, and the like. Note though that the Word character is not usually the length of an em-dash (depends on the font...), but closer to an en-dash.

  21. #21
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin skyhawk0's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Freya Yuki View Post
    Also, can I add punctuation within an em dash? For example, is this correct:

    He swiped a hand across his eyes, blinking the sweat—of course, it was sweat. What else could it be?—out of them.

    Or should it be:

    He swiped a hand across his eyes, blinking the sweat— of course, it was sweat. What else could it be?— out of them.
    While a question mark within an aside is accepted (though not optimal), a period isn't. It's simply too confusing. I would go with "He swiped a hand across his eyes, blinking the sweat—of course it was sweat, what else could it be?—out of them."
    Quote Originally Posted by Freya Yuki View Post
    If the interrupted dialog is a question, do you need a question mark after the em dash? I've seen it done both ways and not sure which one is correct. For example:

    “What are you talking—”

    “What are you talking—?”
    Definitely the second. The inflection of the speech is that of a question and that needs to be clear.
    Quote Originally Posted by Freya Yuki View Post
    What if the em dash shows up before the dialog? Should there be a space? For example:

    If he was telling the truth— “You said something..."

    If he was telling the truth—“You said something..."

    Which one is correct?
    I can't see ever doing this. The dialogue would stand on its own as its own paragraph and I can't picture the sentence that would flow as your example does. But spaces around an em-dash are a convention of choice. As long as you apply spaces consistently, you're good.

  22. #22
    practical experience, FTW pschmehl's Avatar
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    BTW, the way to make an emdash on a Mac is shift-alt-dash —
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