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Category : Punctuation Rules

Dashes

For the uninitiated, a dash is often thought to be a hyphen mark. Well, it is not so. Hyphens and dashes have different significance in English grammar. Moreover, there are different types of dashes, used for different grammatical situations.

Check out the minus key (-) on your keyboard: that is the width of a hyphen mark. Hyphen is used to write twin words, compound verbs, adverbs and adjectives.

Examples:

He is a hanky-panky guy.

Poor Joe is in a love-hate relationship.

We are working towards becoming a carbon-neutral nation.

The use of hyphen marks is rather limited. Dashes, however, are wider than hyphens and even have wider usages. Dashes are categorized into two types: En dash and Em dash. Both get their names from the width of the alphabet (`n’ and `m’) they are associated with.  So, Em dash is twice longer than En dash.

En Dash is used to represent a range of values or distances. On the computer, it can be typed by inserting the “dash” symbol from the symbols column.

Examples with En Dash:

According to the CEO, 2009−10 was the best year for the company so far.

We covered Delhi−Bangalore in just one hour.

Women in the age group of 45−55 years are most prone to osteoporosis.

Em Dash is used to represent more complex elements. It is used to insert an additional piece of information that needs adequate emphasis in the sentence. On the computer, type a double hyphen between two letters without a gap and you’ll get an Em Dash.

Examples with Em Dash:

My colleague—also a product of MIT—participated in the conference.

The children—the bedrock of our society—must be groomed well.

My aunt—a famous writer herself—attended the book launch.

Note that there is no space on either side of the em dash.

An em dash could also be used to separate the last part of the sentence.

Example:

Can I borrow some money?—oh no, it’s alright.

Many celebrities attended the function—cricketers, film stars, politicians and businessmen and so on.

Commas vs. Semicolons in Compound Sentences

To start with, let us understand what makes a compound sentence. A sentence is called a compound sentence when two independent clauses are linked together in some form to make one complete sentence.

Examples:

  • We are inviting the Marshalls home. We want them to have lunch with us.

The above two sentences can be linked together to form one complete sentence. That can happen in two ways:

We are inviting the Marshalls home, and we want them to have lunch with us. Or,

We are inviting the Marshalls home; we want them to have lunch with us.

  • It’s just begun to rain. I am happy that I am home.

The sentence can be written as:

It’s just begun to rain, but I am happy that I am home.

It’s just begun to rain; I am happy that I am home.

Notice that, in most cases, two independent clauses/ sentences can be linked with a “,” or a “;” punctuation mark to make it a compound sentence. A compound sentence with a “,” link is accompanied by a connecting conjunction such as “but,” “and,” “for,” “because,” “nor,” “or,” “yet,” etc. A compound sentence with a “;” link does not include any connecting words.

There is another kind of compound sentence that involves both a comma and a semicolon. After the two independent clauses are linked with a semicolon, the conjuctive adverb following the semicolon (if any) should be followed with a comma. Conjuctive adverbs are words such as “however,” “moreover,” “consequently,” “nevertheless,” “meanwhile,” “therefore,” etc.

Examples:

We are inviting the Marshalls home; subsequently, we want them to have lunch with us.

It’s just begun to rain; however, I am happy that I am home.

Using Commas

Commas are one of the most widely used punctuation marks in written English. While some basic rules of comma usage may be rigid, there are contexts in a sentence when using a comma could be optional. Commas, nevertheless, are known to offer clarity to a sentence and therefore, must be used wherever appropriate.

Here is a broad categorization of Comma Rules:

  • Commas, while listing items in a sentence.

Examples:

Johnny’s coffee estate also had cardamom, pepper, cinnamon and other cash crops.

He will spend his pocket money to buy clothes, books, shoes and also go watch a movie.

The award function was attended by film personalities, business tycoons, socialites, and sports personalities.

In the third example, a comma before “and” may be necessary to clearly distinguish between socialites and sports personalities as two separate sets of people.

  • A comma, to link two independent clauses with conjunctions such as “but,” “and,” “or,” “yet,” “for,” “nor,” etc.

Examples:

My project was rejected, but I still think it deserved a chance.

Danny along with his family was supposed to land here two days ago, yet there is no sign of him.

  • A comma, to replace “and” between 2 adjectives.

Examples:

The country has a frail, malnourished healthcare system.

The hot, humid Maldives will be the first casualty of global warming.

  • A comma, before names and designations that are directly addressed.

Examples:

Dr. Smith, MD.

Don’t worry, Mrs. Annie, I will have your book published.

  • A comma, between days of a month and year.

Example:

January 13, 2010.

  • A comma, between cities, states, and the country.

Example:

The weather in Bangalore, India is just great.

  • A comma, before beginning a quote.

Example:

The officer said, “Please take your seat.”

  • A comma, after setting off an introductory word, or a phrase.

Examples:

Yes, my husband is a surgeon.

You see, all of us are remotely related to each other.

  • Commas, after words like “Therefore,” “However,” etc.

Examples:

She was, however, the brightest student in class.

Nevertheless, that was the last resort.

  • A comma, between contrasting sentences.

Example:

The judge overruled the contention of the prosecutor, not of the accused.

  • A comma, before and after a set of words that interrupts the flow of the sentence but offer additional information in the sentence.

Examples:

The animals in the zoo, which seemed quite underfed, looked dull and weak.

You have, if you are aware, won the prize.

  • A comma, after an adverbial clause in a sentence. An adverbial clause is a clause that functions as an adverb.

Example:

She stared into her PC, unsure of what was in store for her.

Sitting on the couch, little Jonny’s eyes were stuck to the television.

  • A comma, after conditional clause or a comma after a weak/dependent clause leading to a strong clause of the sentence.

Examples:

If you want some help, do let me know.

Since I am not keeping well, I will not be able to attend office today.

  • Some commas are necessary by common sense: not using commas when appropriate may entirely change the meaning of the sentence.

Example:

I knew she met with an accident, because mom messaged me this morning.

Without the comma use after accident, the sentence would read like: I knew she met with an accident because mom messaged me this morning. It seems as if she met with the accident because mom called the subject.