Friday, December 2, 2011

Grammar Friday - Emphasis & Give Books Blog Hop

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Following are three sentences using commas, parentheses, or em-dashes to set off a portion of the sentence.
The supporters of the trade bill need the votes of three or more senators, the most likely ones to be won over are Smith, Jones, and White, if they are to get approval of the legislation.

The supporters of the trade bill need the votes of three or more senators (the most likely ones to be won over are Smith, Jones, and White) if they are to get approval of the legislation.

The supporters of the trade bill need the votes of three or more senators—the most likely ones to be won over are Smith, Jones, and White—if they are to get approval of the legislation.
Which is correct?

They're all grammatically correct. As to which you should use depends upon your intent for the sentence and what you want to emphasize in it.

If you don't want to draw attention to the aside, commas would be a good option. Using the parentheses draws a little more attention.

Visually, if you really want to draw the reader's attention to the aside, you'd use the em dash because it really makes it stand out.

Bonus Question

And for that matter, what is an en dash or an em dash? Well, and en dash is basically the width of an "n" and and em dash is the width of an "m". Isn't it nice to know there really is some logic in all this? If you're interested in some nice examples of when and how to use dashes, there's a nice article here.

I have to confess that I interrupt myself all the time with asides, so they have a tendency to want to take over in my writing. Do you use dashes? Or are you a dash hater?


  1. I often use dashes in my writing. In fact, I think I sometimes use them too much! Whenever I'm editing, I find myself taking out quite a few dashes because they look a bit distracting on the page. I rarely use parentheses, they always look a bit comical to me. Commas are fine though. I'd use commas for less stress, em-dashes for something more emphatic.

  2. Personally, I'm a fan of parentheses. I rarely use dashes. Never knew that 'n' and 'm' thing. See I learned something today. When it comes to grammar and especially punctuation, There is a lot I can learn.

    I freely admit; I DO NOT know where the commas go.

    Thanks for your comment - every "daddy" in my work has a little bit of him in there somewhere.

  3. I actually knew that about said dashes. lol I do use the 'm-dash', maybe too often on occasion. I think you said it perfectly, mentioning that emphasis should be part of your decision as to using them or not. Great job!

    Have a fab weekend.

  4. I never use parentheses in my writing. They're too cutesy.

    In the above sample, I would have used emdashes. I kind of think the commas make a run-on sentence, because you have an independent clause between them. It would work if the clause was changed to "Smith, Jones, and White being the most likely ones to be won over."

    But I would still use an emdash.

  5. I love the m dash--I overuse it to the point it drives even me crazy--because it provides a pause rather than a full stop--and without making your sentence feel like it's running on and on--although it certainly can give your prose a breathless and disjointed feel. : )

  6. I do use dashes, but I never knew they had those m and n names. I like the looks of the dashed passage best - it looks the most smooth of the three.

  7. I didn't know about en dashes. I just thought there were em dashes.

    Great post! For me, it also comes to style. I don't use parentheses in one of my wip, but I do use them in another one. It's part of the characterization/voice.

  8. In the example you gave, I would use the dash every time - but then again, I'm a dashing sort.

    I've been aware of the different dashes, but I'm still not sure when to use em and when to use en. I'll have to go back and re-read "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" again. I'm pretty sure she covers it there.

  9. I need all the help that I can get with grammar, so thanks.

    I am a dash advocate; certainly to the point of overkill at times.

  10. I use dashes in my posts and comments, but never in my books. No idea why.

  11. Fun blog hop! I need to check it out.

    And, I used dashes sometimes, but I never knew so much about them! WOW! Great post!

    And... I got my book! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! My husband thought I was crazy when I started jumping up and down when the mail came! LOL

  12. I didn't use em-dashes in my first draft. Heck, I didn't even really know about them until I started working with crit partners. But I use them now. If the phrase is truly an aside, then I think the em-dash is more appropriate. I find parenthetical phrasing in novels distracting. Commas are good, but the younger set these days doesn't seem to know where to use them.

    Great grammar lesson, as always!

    And thank you for dropping by Matthew's QQQE blog today and commenting on my query up for critique. I've already fine-tuned my query and it is much better now!

  13. I love em dashes. Seriously. I have to make a conscious effort not to pepper my stories with them. ;)

  14. I love em dashes. Possibly too much.

  15. I use dashes all the time when I'm writing. It's one of those things I have to look for a lot when I'm editing, because I tend to overuse them. ;)

    Lovely grammar lesson! :D


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