dashes and commas and parenthesis, oh my!

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dashes and commas and parenthesis, oh my!

Post by Archived Topic » Sun Jan 06, 2002 6:03 pm

Okay, here's my question: when writing a sentence where you wish to include a sidenote mid-sentence there are three ways to do it. But I?m sure there is an official proper way, or atleast that each way should be used slightly different? anyways here are the threes ways:

1. with dashes:

I like dogs -- I owned two as a child -- because their company is always pleasant.

2. with commas/semi colon:

I like dogs, I owned two as a child, because their company is always pleasant.

3. with parenthesis:

I like dogs (I owned two as a child) because their company is always pleasant.

So which way works better? Which is proper?
I think maybe they are chosen in a sentence by how much the sidenote relates to the context of the phase.

Any input?

Submitted by Curtis Horsburgh (Calgary - Canada)
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dashes and commas and parenthesis, oh my!

Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jan 06, 2002 6:17 pm

Curtis,

Off the top of my head I would say that dashes tend to be used where the parenthetical remark is a brief interjection -- to be passed over quickly -- while parentheses are more often used in a long sentence (in order to reduce the confusion that can result if a sentence contains more than just a couple of clauses) or if the interjection is on the lengthy side (for instance, in order to explain something that is complicated or is only marginally related to the main topic of the sentence).

I would never write a sentence structured like example 2 because it lacks a 'which' or 'that' to introduce the parenthetical comment. What you have done there is in effect to embed one sentence in another sentence to which it has no grammatical relationship. Of course that is also true of examples 1 and 3, but in these cases the dashes and parentheses are long-standing conventions that allow the reader to absorb the interjection without interpreting it as an unwarranted interruption.

If you wanted to write example 2 using commas, you would have to say something like "I like dogs, two of which I owned as a child, because their company is always pleasant" or "I like dogs, of which I owned two as a child, because their company is always pleasant." (For what it's worth I think the second is stylistically preferable, though I find it hard to say why.)

If you wanted to use a semicolon, you would have to break the sentence into two: "I like dogs; I owned two as a child. This was because their company is always pleasant." The reason for this is that using a semicolon would break the grammatical link between the first clause of your example sentence ("I like dogs") and the last ("because their company is always pleasant).
Reply from Erik Kowal ( - England)
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dashes and commas and parenthesis, oh my!

Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jan 06, 2002 6:46 pm

I'd wholeheartedly agree with Erik and simply add that your example 2 shows a use of the comma that is becoming increasingly widespread, although most language professionals rightly reject it as incorrect because it is clumsy and unhelpful and does not mark the interpolation clearly as such.
Phil W. 10 November, 2004
Reply from Phil White (Munich - Germany)
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dashes and commas and parenthesis, oh my!

Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jan 06, 2002 7:01 pm

As I recall, there is a pretty good explanation of dashes and parentheses in "Eats, Shoots & Leaves." You might want to pick up a copy, Curtis.
Reply from K. Allen Griffy (Springfield, IL - U.S.A.)
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