Colons, semicolons, dashes, and parentheses


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Thread: Colons, semicolons, dashes, and parentheses

  1. #1

    Colons, semicolons, dashes, and parentheses

    These four punctuation marks often seem interchangeable. A semicolon is the most specific; you use it to join two complete sentences that share a similar thought. Colons, however, are more general: they can be used instead of a semicolon when the second part is a clarification or definition of some sort (beyond all their usual uses, like separating hours and minutes, or to preface a list). Parentheses are obviously used to separate parenthetical statements and asides (as in the previous sentence). A dash, however, seems the most loose of them all. It can be used in place of a colon - that is, to set off a description from its introduction. It can also be used - seemingly according to the author's whim - in place of parentheses.

    I tried to give examples of each of these punctuation marks in the preceding paragraph, but I'm sure it could be rewritten using different punctuation with no loss in readability, comprehensibility, or grammatical fidelity. I chose the ones I did because I felt they illustrated my points best, but there are certainly other ways to present the information. So which do you all use, and why? Do you favor certain marks over others? What determines if you use, for example, a semicolon or a colon? How about dashes instead of parentheses?
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  2. #2
    To take it a step farther, there is a difference between an en-dash and an em-dash. The word processor here at WF doesn't properly render an em-dash, which is -- at least in MS Word -- rendered by 'double-dashing.'
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  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    To take it a step farther, there is a difference between an en-dash and an em-dash. The word processor here at WF doesn't properly render an em-dash, which is -- at least in MS Word -- rendered by 'double-dashing.'
    It's deeper than that, actually. There's a hyphen, an em dash, an en dash, and a horizontal bar, and all of them have different uses.

    EDIT: More accurately, an em dash and en dash can sometimes be used interchangeably if you space them correctly (spaces on either side of the en dash but no spaces around the em dash), but there are times when only the en dash is correct, and times when only the em dash (horizontal bar) is correct. But a hyphen is still different, as is a minus sign.
    "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." - Benjamin Franklin

    "I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story." - Tom Clancy

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Gamer_2k4 View Post
    It's deeper than that, actually. There's a hyphen, an em dash, an en dash, and a horizontal bar, and all of them have different uses.

    EDIT: More accurately, an em dash and en dash can sometimes be used interchangeably if you space them correctly (spaces on either side of the en dash but no spaces around the em dash), but there are times when only the en dash is correct, and times when only the em dash (horizontal bar) is correct. But a hyphen is still different, as is a minus sign.
    I am pretty sure en dash and em dash can never be used interchangeably. SOurce: https://www.thepunctuationguide.com/en-dash.html

    En dashes look to only be used for ranges. Em dashes can have the space or no space on either ends. Where do you see they can be interchanged?
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Riptide View Post
    I am pretty sure en dash and em dash can never be used interchangeably. SOurce: https://www.thepunctuationguide.com/en-dash.html

    En dashes look to only be used for ranges. Em dashes can have the space or no space on either ends. Where do you see they can be interchanged?
    This is from Wikipedia:

    An em dash or a spaced en dash can be used to mark a break in a sentence, and a pair can be used to set off parenthetical statements.
    Glitter, felt, yarn, and buttons—his kitchen looked as if a clown had exploded.
    A flock of sparrows – some of them juveniles – alighted and sang.
    "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." - Benjamin Franklin

    "I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story." - Tom Clancy

  6. #6
    Ah... as much as I love wikipedia...

    It's fine, I guess, if wikipedia says so, but idk if word automatically changes for en dashes like it does for em dashes. If I see a hyphen separated by two spaces to break up a sentence, I'm going to assume it's wrong.
    "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand." - Raymond Chandler

  7. #7
    The double comma can also be used to mark off information.

    It seems to work well, IMO, if parentheses are used for information that is extra (or parenthetical). The double comma works well for information that is additional but relevant. And the double dash for information that is as important as the rest of the sentence.

    There are other punctuation management issues that might override that.

    They are also spoken differently, as far as I know.
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  8. #8
    I tend to use semi-colons in place of because, or maybe as a soft because. However, to do this frequently makes the writing look rather pompous, so I am very sparing with them.


  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Phil Istine View Post
    I tend to use semi-colons in place of because, or maybe as a soft because. However, to do this frequently makes the writing look rather pompous, so I am very sparing with them.
    Do you mean in place of the word "because"? I decided that was King's usual reason for using a semicolon.

    That was okay with me; they were the bad guys, after all. (King, Revival)
    If that was changed to:

    That was okay with me, because they were the bad guys, after all.
    it would be --- technically -- ungrammatical. Not many people worry about that nowadays; I actually tried to ask his editor about this, but (unsurprisingly) got no answer.

    What is a "soft because"?
    Last edited by EmmaSohan; March 30th, 2019 at 12:46 AM.
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  10. #10
    These are rules invented by compositors and typesetters, before printing they didn't exist. They were not invented to assist the writer in conveying meaning, but to make a typesetter's (a non-writer) job easy; so take them with a pinch of salt and use them in your own idiosyncratic way is what I say.
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