A Little-Known Dash Rule

Besides using the dash for interruptions (broken sentence structure), there are some grammar rules that govern the use of the dash.

When a pronoun refers back to one noun, use a comma in front of the pronoun; when a pronoun refers back to several nouns, use a dash in front of the pronoun.

…We received several letters, each of which I answered.
…We received letters, cards, and emails — each of which I answered.

…I sent it to three friends, all of whom I expected to attend.
…I sent it to Ray, Anita, and Roxanne — all of whom I expected to attend.

Happy punctuating!

Margie

The Colon or the Dash

There is a place where the rule for the colon and the rule for the dash overlap, in other words, a place where each one is correct.

…There are several things to consider: money outlay, time spent, manpower involved.
…There are several things to consider — money outlay, time spent, manpower involved.

In this instance, it is really best to opt for the colon since the dash is so prevalent for interruptions. It is a chance to use the colon correctly and avoid having one more dash in the transcript.

Happy punctuating!

Margie

The “Summary” Dash

There is a little-known dash rule that is called the “summary dash.” It is used when a sentence has concluded and a clause refers back to the subject of that sentence. The clause is really an appositive to the subject of the sentence.

(There are other instances of a summary dash that we will save for another day.)

…It was something I never expected to discover — that the company was doing shoddy work.
…That is what I remember — that he was always late to work.

Happy punctuating!

Margie

A Rather Obscure Dash Rule

When an indefinite pronoun renames one noun, use a comma.

…He saw several books, none of which interested him.
…We looked at three models, each of which had some interesting features.
…I talked to the kids involved, all of which told the same story.

When an indefinite pronoun renames several nouns, use a dash.

…He saw books, pamphlets, and magazines — none of which interested him.
…We looked at a Ford, a Toyota, and a Honda — each of which had some interesting features.
…I talked to John, Heather, and Alicia — all of which told the same story.

Happy punctuating!

Margie

Sentence Within a Sentence

If a question is dropped inside a statement or question, put a pair of dashes around it and a question mark after it.

…He was standing near — were you aware of him at the time? — the desk of the boss.
…I am going to read to you — can you hear me? — from your deposition of yesterday.

Do not cap after a dash unless the word ALWAYS has to be capped.

Grammar class starts tomorrow. It is not too late to join us.

Happy punctuating!

Margie

The Sentence Is Over…

We see this same pattern often: We have finished a sentence; then we throw in something that renames the subject of that sentence.

…We decided to spend the weekend away — my husband and I….The company had been in the red — Mitchell Engineering.
…That is what I wanted to tell you — that he was here today.

The grammar here is that the element after the complete sentence is an appositive to the subject of the sentence. In each case, it can be inserted into the sentence for the subject.

…My husband and I decided to spend the weekend away.
…Mitchell Engineering had been in the red.
…Th
at he was here today is what I wanted to tell you.

Since the appositive comes after the sentence has concluded, it takes a dash.

If the sentence is asking a question, there are two interrogs.

…Who decided to go forward? Your boss?
…Was the bank in error? Chase Bank?
…Was that your understanding? That he would meet you there?

Happy punctuating!

Margie

The Dash You Hate

…The key that was hidden on the premises — is it the one you used to get in that night?
“The key that was hidden on the premises” is the start of a sentence that never gets finished. Then the person comes back and uses a complete sentence with a reference to “key” with the word “it.” There is nothing for that first part — “The key that was hidden on the premises” — to be or to do in the complete question.

At best, it might be an appositive, but if it is, it is away out of place. An appositive that “precedes” what it renames takes a dash. A sentence that gets started and does not get finished takes a dash.

 
There has always been a lot of push-back for the dash here. This is my response: If you want a comma, state the rule that covers it. There just isn’t a comma rule that works here.

Happy punctuating!

Margie

Capping After the Dash

Do not cap a word after a dash unless it always has to be capped.

…He was on his way to — to visit her in the hospital.
…She helped him to — helped her to the couch after she fell.

When there is a complete chance of topic after the dash, paragraph the next sentence. Of course, the paragraphed sentence is capped.

…A     He was on his way to —
I believe that he worked nearby and that he was on his way to work.

Happy punctuating!

Margie

Commas Around Them, Commas Inside Them

When elements that have commas around them also have commas within them, the commas around them change to dashes.

…If it has misspellings — whether they be medications, medical terms, or names — you’ll end up having to change them yourself.

…The men who helped us — Ron, Ross, Ralph, and Manny — volunteered on their own.

…All of the mirrors — right, left, and rearview — were coordinated.

Happy punctuating!

Margie

The Dash —

Rather than thinking of the dash as being used for an “interruption,” it will serve you better to frame that rule as “A dash is used for a sentence that got started and did not get finished — broken sentence structure.” This thinking will allow you to use a dash in some places that may feel uncomfortable but where it is oh so correct. Sorry.

…The black car — was it in the right lane?
…The keys that I am holding in my hand — do these look familiar?
…Ms. Mary Reynolds — was she being considered for the job?

These are sentences/thoughts that got started but didn’t get finished in the original form, necessitating a dash.

Happy punctuating!

Margie