To Dash or Not To Dash-That Is The Question?

A blog by Tom Gale a new LGBTQ+ writer in Salford, England. Oct 2022.

What joy. Our paths cross again. Have I told you lately how much I love you all? No? Well, I
do. My heart overflows knowing you are following, liking, and commenting on my blog. I have
so many exciting things coming up that I hope you will love as much as I have creating them.
However, that’s to come. Onto this week’s topic. My poor grammar and punctuation.

No One Complained

Depending upon how old you are, drills in grammar surrounding commas, parentheses and
em dashes may have benefitted you greatly. Personally, when I missed the 11+ by a year, in
my mind, learning grammar wasn’t as high on my list of priorities. If I had my English
Comprehension and English Literature, Bs would have been As. However, as I was the first
pupil in my school’s history to have achieved 8 ‘O’ Levels and 3 ‘Higher’ levels, no one
complained about whether my use of commas was up to snuff.

Mortified and Bullied

The smile on my English teacher’s face when it was my turn to read aloud was enough to let
me know I was on the right track. However, she mortified both of us when she told the class.
However, as one was bullied every day for the first two years of high school-being, being
called ‘swat’ or ‘teacher’s pet’ was nothing in comparison.

Come Back To Haunt Me

As a new writer-having started writing full time two years ago, it has come back to haunt me.
So what if I use a dash or parentheses instead of a comma? Will it matter that much? Well, it
may. It may even matter greatly, particularly when I reach the point of handing over my
manuscript to a professional editor.

Insult to My Beta Reader

That was torturous reading. I didn’t take it personally and thanked them for their
thought-provoking feedback.
Once I had ranted and sworn a few times in private about the comments, I gave it some real
thought. I concluded that there was little I could show to bring doubt to their analysis. So I
decided to make it a point of personal growth to read some books on the subject. Choosing
books that included exercises over those focused more on theory and rules.

Getting Re-acquainted with Terminology

I re-acquainted myself with ‘absolute possessive’, ‘brackets’, ‘commas’ and ‘dashes’ amongst
many other terms, such as ‘vocative case’, ‘weak verbs’ and my personal favourite ‘zeugma’.
With a hand on my heart, I can say that is one word I never heard out of my English teacher’s
mouth in the four years I was in her class.

Pay Attention To This…

It felt like I was looking for a foreign language. I had forgotten many of the terms or never
paid attention in the first place. That was like a klaxon going off. ‘PAY ATTENTION TO THIS.

Absolute Possessive Pronouns and Possessive Determiners

The term “absolute possessive pronoun” refer to possessive pronouns “mine”, “yours”, “his”,
“hers”, “ours”, and “theirs”.

A Possessive pronoun is “a word replacing a noun (or a noun phrase) and shows ownership.”

The term “absolute possessive pronoun” differentiates these pronouns from possessive
determiners “my”, “your”, “his”, “her”, “its” “our” and “their”. Which are traditionally
called possessive adjectives.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=possessive+adjective%2C+possessive+determiner&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1

%3B%2Cpossessive%20adjective%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cpossessive%20determiner%3
B%2Cc0

Another Steep Learning Curve

The realisation I was just the beginning of ‘As’ brought into sharp focus that this would be a
steep learning curve. Which shouldn’t have come as a surprise as every part of my writing
pathway has also been. Although, in my defence, writing full-time has been just over two
years, which has helped.

One Of My Sharpest Tools

I am determined to make this one of the sharpest tools in my writer’s toolbox that Stephen
King refers to in his book “On Writing”, which I found incredibly revealing about what it will
take to become a good writer day.

There’s An App For That

But Tom, don’t you know there are apps for that these days? I hear you screaming at me from
behind this page. The purpose is for me to learn grammar. I observed the apps I’ve looked at
while doing a splendid job of recognising poor grammar and offering suggestions. To me,
that feels much like the old proverb. “Catch a fish for a man, and he will eat today. Show him
how to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” I want my grammar to feed my writing. However,
it will point out spacing inconsistencies and correct all occurrences with a click. It will also
offer suggestions for rewriting a sentence(s). Or when a word repeats in the same sentence or

paragraph, it will provide recommendations for alternatives. However, will they ‘play nice
with my writing and blogging apps (I use five for different purposes)?

As I wrote in a previous blog
https://tomgalewriter.com/2022/06/06/why-do-you-have-to-learn-the-hard-way/

Loving What I Do

I want to be the best writer I can be, which is why I am doing this. It is more in keeping with
the spirit of “loving what you do” I am already doing what I love and am thankful for that.
But, like all jobs, some aspects are not as enjoyable as others. So this is me learning to love
more about editing more. I am also doing other things to learn to love marketing my work. So
that I will be able to say with confidence “that after some considerable time and effort, I do
love what I do.”

I think that will be a blog for the future.

To Dash Or Not To Dash

As commas, parentheses, and dashes set off extra information or expand upon something
preceding them. As mentioned earlier, the rule of thumb regards how close or distant it is to
the data. Commas do the job when the material is closely related to that around it.
Parentheses when the material is more distantly related. The middle ground uses the dash.

Or

You can use it to set off or introduce defining phrases and lists.

Something like “Sarah stared at a choice of three croissants-plain, almond and chocolate,
taking all her will not to go in.
Or

Use it in place of a colon or semi-colon to link clauses.

Leni would never forget the day the head called her to his office, brimming with
excitement-she had made history for the school.

Or

To set off illustrative or amplifying material. Phrases that may be introduced by, for example,
namely, and that is.

“You must see it now?” John said, stressing the must. “As anyone with even one eye would see
from its shape, the movement is horizontal, not vertical.”

Or

To introduce a summary statement.

Chocolate chip, oatmeal with raisins, peanut butter, salted caramel, macarons and
macaroons- the plethora of varieties on this week’s Bake Off was impressive.

Are you all still with me? I do hope so. However, I realise that will have been a lot for some.
If there was an easier way to explain it believe me I would have. That’s the thing with
grammar it is a stickler for its rules and definitions. My poor use of it up until now may well
be one of those key elements that determine within seconds if a manuscript goes in the “B”
pile, “B” for Bin that is. Or the “A” pile. “A” for Ah hah!
Those terms are fictional. They came from my own head. Whatever pile is the smallest.
So, if the pain of “to dash or not to dash” added to the pain of the terminology B-Z of which
there are many, I see that as the cost of being the best writer that I am capable of. When I can
witness to the truth of the saying “I love what I do.” not just do what I love.

Remember To Like And Share

As always thanks for coming back. Remember to like and share with your friends who might
be interested in my blog. Thoughts, comments and feedback are always welcome. Just hit the
comment button and tell me. Until we meet again you can find me

You can read my published work at the link below

https://madmagz.com/magazine/1933351#/page/51

Peace my friends.

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