Tag Archives: sentence

Leave a reply

Everyone’s got a favorite punctuation mark. As for me, I like the em dash. Seems like I often have something extra to say at the end of a sentence or find myself wanting to interject a thought between thoughts. I’ve got options, of course, but the em dash usually grabs my attention first. Em dashes are simple and clean, easy to type, and extremely versatile. They also make my writing flow the best. But take my advice: there are tricks to using the em dash effectively, and getting to know the ins and outs of this functionally fun punctuation mark is worth the effort if you want it to improve your writing.

What is the Em Dash?

The em dash is a dash that’s about as long as the letter m. Don’t mistake it with the en dash, which is shorter and typically used between numbers, dates, and times. It’s also not the same as a hyphen, the shortest dash and the one used in compound words.

While the em dash is often referred to as the long dash, it's a great way to bring tightness and focus to your sentences.

When is the Em Dash Appropriate?

If you’ve got an important detail you want to highlight or you want to show a sudden break in thought, the em dash may be just the ticket: Sarah decided to return the white dress—she never planned to keep it anyway—after her mother commented on how pale she looked.

It also works when adding a final thought: Eating healthy and staying fit and strong will improve your overall well-being—and keep you young at heart.

You might also use an em dash to set off an introductory series of nouns: Patience, empathy, and kindness—those were the virtues she preached the most.

Finally, em dashes make reading a sentence with other punctuation easier on the eyes: Fruits, vegetables, and protein—especially strawberries, cauliflower, and fish—are among her favorites.

Dos and Don’ts for Using the Em Dash

The em dash has a place in your writing, but it’s not always the right mark to use. Keep these dos and don’ts in mind:

  • Do place the em dashes in the right spot. When used with an interjected idea, put dashes on either side. When used for a final thought, place the em dash directly before the thought.
  • Do watch your spacing. Em dashes don’t need spaces between letters. Make them look neat on the page.
  • Don’t use the em dash if parentheses or commas make more sense; for example, when a detail is minor and doesn’t need amplification.
  • Don’t precede an em dash with a comma, colon, semicolon, or period. You may use a question mark or exclamation point, though: He made it on time—thank goodness!—and the meeting was a success.
  • Don’t overuse the em dash. If your entire page is filled with them, they backfire and become hard on the eyes. Place them sparingly throughout a piece of writing. And never use two or more em dash clauses in the same sentence

Got a propensity for the em dash? Me too. Use it appropriately and intermittently and make the mark work to your advantage.

 

 

Leave a reply

In today’s world of loose rules and anything-goes sentence structure, bad grammar often gets a pass. But using effective grammar is essential for readability, credibility, and clarity in writing. If you think you could use a grammar refresher, look no further. These five tips will help you hone and improve your grammar—so you can give your readers a satisfying, stammer-free experience.

Take a Class

Why not enroll in a grammar refresher course? They’re fun and challenging and help sharpen this important writing skill. Recommended classes include the Editorial Freelancers Association's Grammar Combo course, ed2go’s Grammar Refresher, and Media Bistro’s Grammar and Punctuation. You might also check with a local college or community education program for onsite grammar refresher classes.

Download a Grammar App

There are many grammar apps out there, so why not take advantage of this useful tool? Grammar apps do everything from point out errors in your writing to offer quizzes and games to make learning fun. Some of the most popular grammar apps include Grammarly, Oxford A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation, and Grammar Up, but an online search will reveal many more.

Explore a Grammar Site

Websites set up to assist with grammar can be a great resource for those especially interested in learning more about the mechanics of good writing. Three to consider are GrammarCheck, Daily Grammar, and Purdue Online Writing Lab. These sites include newsy information on today’s use of grammar as well as helpful hints to keep your grammar spotless—and spot on.

Invest in a Good Style Guide

This is a must if you’re a writer. Style guides give rules for how editors (self-editors too!) should handle all kinds of grammar-related issues—from basic mechanics to word usage. For tips on choosing a style guide, check out Allena Tapia's article on the subject. Style and usage books, like the classic On Writing Well by William Zinsser and Strunk’s The Elements of Style, offer important grammar help for writers, too.

Read

You’d be surprised at how many grammar tips you can pick up by just reading a book. Plus, reading is an entertaining and informative way to hone your craft. So go ahead and read to your heart’s content. But instead of reading as a reader, try reading as a writer. Your grammar won’t just improve; so will your overall writing.

Don’t let your grammar fall by the wayside. Take it seriously, and make your writing as professional and crystal clear as it can be.

 

Leave a reply

grammar

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of writing with—what seems to me—misplaced commas used with conjunctions. Granted, most of these sightings appear on social media, where grammar and punctuation apparently don’t matter much. Still, it made me wonder whether the rules surrounding commas and conjunctions are starting to bend a little, even in professional writing. True to form, I got right on it, researching what other writers and grammar gurus think.

What I discovered wasn’t surprising: everyone has an opinion. What I gleaned, though, is that the rules for using commas with conjunctions aren’t hard and fast today. In fact, there are times when they don’t make good writing sense. Check out which old rules still apply and which appear to have moved on:

Commas/conjunctions with independent clauses:

Example: John decided to travel to Europe in the spring, but he wanted to keep his plans a secret.

  • Old rule: The comma precedes the conjunction when two independent clauses are separated by a conjunction.
  • New rule: Still the same, but some authorities say it’s okay, even recommended, to leave off the commas for very short clauses if no confusion results.

Commas/conjunctions with independent clauses that contain parenthetical or descriptive phrases:

Example: She wouldn’t have an answer until Friday, and, given her knack for procrastinating, she might not get back to you until Monday.

  • Old rule: A comma should separate two independent clauses as well as set off descriptive phrases from the rest of the sentence.
  • New rule: Although the above example is still technically correct, three commas so close together makes the sentence look cluttered. One solution is to remove the comma before the conjunction, along with the second she, so that you no longer have two independent clauses: She wouldn’t have an answer until Friday and, given her knack for procrastinating, might not get back to you until Monday. Another option is to substitute a semicolon for the comma after the first independent clause: She wouldn’t have an answer until Friday; and, given her knack for procrastinating, she might not get back to you until Monday.

Commas/conjunctions without independent clauses:

Example: He didn’t ask any questions or raise any concerns.

  • Old rule: No comma before or after the conjunction.
  • New rule: Still the same. For long sentences where a pause becomes necessary, place a comma before the conjunction.

Commas/conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence:

Example: I didn’t get the job. So what do I do now?

  • Old rule: No comma is necessary.
  • New rule: A comma after the conjunction is useful to show a pause or a lingering of thought, if that’s the writer’s intent.

To sum up, commas usually still have a place beside conjunctions, though not always in the spot you might think. Of course, my theory on commas remains unchanged: don’t use them if you don’t have to. It’ll make your writing cleaner and smoother. Best advice? When using commas, use good judgment.

For more information on commas, check out my blog post For the Love of Commas, Don’t Overuse Them.

2 Comments

When I was a kid, I loved using commas. I wouldn’t just use them wherever I should, either. I’d use them wherever I could. I must have thought all those squiggly little marks made my writing look smart and professional. They certainly made the page more decorative. But as the years went on I started to get distracted by all the commas. As ornate as they were, they were breaking up the flow of my words. Did every single one of them really need to be there? I’d ask myself. Often the answer was no. The writing made just as much sense without the comma and was a heck of a lot easier to read.

That’s not to say I don’t like commas anymore. I do. I still use them whenever I need to. They help me break up lists, set off clauses, and avoid any confusion that would result without them. Sometimes I even use them to give the reader a chance to pause. What I don’t do, though, is use commas wherever possible. Years ago I might have written this: At first, she worked, not only to feed her family, but also to gain skills and, therefore, confidence. Today I would write that sentence like this: At first she worked not only to feed her family but also to gain skills and therefore confidence. I think I’ve learned to respect the comma. Overusing it just adds clutter and choppiness. Worse, too many commas degrades them, makes them look cheap.

I say if you love commas (and many of us writers do), use them when you need to but pass on them when you don’t. Your writing will be clearer and more professional without all those squiggly little marks peppering the page.