The Intractable Autodidact

You are your own best teacher

My Favorite Punctuation—Today at Least

There are those punctuation marks people always confuse, misuse, and therefore try to generally avoid, e.g. the apostrophe. Many of its uses are indeed archaic, though not all. And while people sometimes try to introduce new marks, they don’t often succeed. For example, consider the interrobang, a combo of an exclamation mark and question mark intended to convey rhetorical questioning and disbelief/surprise, I suppose.

Far more useful for me is this unassuming little band:

I introduce to you the em dash:

Yep. that’s my fave mark today! It is used to break up/pause/change thoughts in a sentence—much like a comma does—but with more impact and for longer text. So for instance, you could write either of these sentences:

“I like writing, though sometimes it can be a lot of work, because it lets me organize the sometimes jumbled ideas in my mind.”

“I like writing—though sometimes it can be a lot of work—because it lets me organize the sometimes jumbled ideas in my mind.”

Can you sense the somewhat stronger switch in the second sentence? There’s a subtlety of difference in what’s expressed too. I often use em dashes to insert longer bits of info that would otherwise be difficult to read and mentally retain using commas. It kind of allows for a sentence within a sentence, without having to link clauses and all that messiness, while still retaining clarity—I hope.

To use it yourself, the shortcut is Alt+0151. Typing those numbers while holding the Alt key will insert the underutilized, misunderstood, exceptionally useful em dash.

In case you’ve never seen one, here’s the interrobang: 

Upcoming post: When to use the even more obscure en dash!

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5 comments on “My Favorite Punctuation—Today at Least

  1. pseudonymous
    November 12, 2015

    Awesome—now I know how to do it right—

    • kentiki
      November 13, 2015

      Cool! I hope I use it right!

  2. Barbara Backer-Gray
    November 12, 2015

    I use em dashes all the time. I also use semicolons. I use em dashes in the middle of sentences as yoiu describe, but I also use them at the end of a sentence to add something that is directly related to what came before. It could be a separate sentence, but the em dash connects it more. In those cases a semicolon would also work, but I like the em dash better. It’s my own rule, I suppose. In blog posts I also shamelessly start sentences with “Because” and “And”, mostly because I believe in keeping sentences from getting too long on a blog. It shouldn’t be work to read it after all.
    I like that interrobang. I need that! I just used a quesution mark/exclamation point a few minutes ago, and I can never decide in what order looks better. This would be the perfect solution. Thanks for pointing it out.

    • kentiki
      November 13, 2015

      I too use them a lot, and semicolons. People seem impressed by them for some reason.

  3. Barbara Backer-Gray
    November 12, 2015

    Oops, sorry for all the typos!

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This entry was posted on November 12, 2015 by in blogging, writing and tagged , , , , , , , .

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