If you’ve been coming here for a while, you will have noticed that I like asides. You know, those tangents off from the main sentence that are so very convenient when writing.
As a rule, though, they’re signs of lazy writing. Usually because the author neglected to take the time to structure his or her writing properly, neglecting what should have been a smooth, narrative flow with extra bits of information that aren’t necessarily pertinent to the subject at hand. Since my brain seems to flit hither and yon when I write, this happens a lot to me … besides, it’s more conversational that way, don’t you think?
See? This is exactly what happens: I’ll be writing along–minding my own business–when another thought or phrase comes barrelling out of nowhere and collides with my sentence. Maybe it’s my fault for not checking my mirrors more carefully, not plotting my route with enough attention to detail, but sometimes (who knows why), these things just happen.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that I’ve sprinkled a number of these patented asides of mine throughout this post so far. Deliberately this time. Let’s examine the ways in which a writer can identify a parenthetical thought, shall we?
- This one should be obvious, since the very concept of a “parenthetical thought” is named for the punctuation. Parentheses (these curved lines that hug a phrase or thought) should be used to de-emphasize material that you’re including in the sentence, even though it may not truly belong there.
- Note that, since parentheses reduce the emphasis, if the material you’re including is important, it warrants its own sentence.
- Also note that (in U.S. usage, which is all I can speak to), if the parenthetical comment is part of another sentence, you never put a period inside the parentheses.
- If, however, your parenthetical comment is a complete sentence standing on its own, the period should be inside the parentheses.
- Naturally, if you open a parenthetical comment “(“, you must also close the parenthesis “)” because they always, always work as a team.
- Dashes are used to emphasize an aside, because it draws attention to the text, like a nice, straight arrow without a head.
- In text, you should ideally use an em-dash, which is the length of an “M” space in typesetting. If that’s not an option–say, you’re typing a blog entry or using an old, manual typewriter–you should use two hyphens right next to each other. No spaces before, during, or after your cobbled-together “dash.”
- Just like with the parentheses, dashes come in pairs–always–unless one leads directly to the end of a sentence.
- Those three little dots … you know, the ones you see everywhere.
- These are used to show that text has been omitted from a quote, or after the quote. “Four score and seven years ago … will not perish from the earth.”
- It can also be used to show a change of thought or pause in dialogue. “Gee … I guess you’re right!”
- Ellipses should be typed as three dots together, but with a space before and after. (Actually, older style guides sometimes suggest spaces in between each dot (“. . .”) but in this age of internet, webpage and word-wrap, this is no longer ideal, because the writer can no longer keep those dots together if they have spaces between them. Everyone’s computer screen is a different width!
- If they are indicating that there is text omitted after a sentence in a quote, finish the sentence with a period, but then add the ellipses. So, in other words, four dots.
- If you’re typing dialogue and someone’s thought trails off, you can just use the three dots and leave it at that, I suppose …
- To a lesser degree, commas can also be used for an on-the-side descriptor. “Marge, his fifth daughter, always gave him trouble.”