The Dash You Hate

Margie Wakeman Wells The Dash 4 Comments

…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

Comments 4

  1. I would argue that “that was hidden on the premises” is an adjective clause that modifies “key.” If that is correct, then the above example would be a situation where the antecedent leads a question. Would that not require a comma instead?

    Remove the clause and consider:

    The key, is it the one you used to get in that night?

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      Author

      Hi, Mike.

      Yes, it is definitely an adjective clause that modifies “key.” The question is what the word “key” is. I believe it is an appositive to the word “it.” And since it is out in front of the word it renames, there is a dash, not a comma.

      Margie

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