Monday, 18 August 2008

Dashes And Ellipses

Somewhere in one of my comments, Sally has asked me for some more information about dashes and ellipses. Do, therefore, please blame her for the following rather boring post.

It's difficult to give exact rules for the correct usage for either the dash or the ellipsis as much depends on house style: the most important rule to remember is to be consistent. Choose one way and stick to it throughout your work. Use a "find and replace" to locate all examples once you've finished, just to ensure your consistency. And once you've done that don't get into a lather about them, as so much depends on the editor or publisher you're working with.

For the ellipsis, the usual convention is that it has a space after, but not before, or between each individual dot; and that if one ends a sentence, then you add a full stop so you get four dots in a row, and that full stop will naturally necessitate that a capital letter follows. So we use ellipses like this in the middle of a sentence... and like this at the end.... Ellipses indicate a trailing off (for example, in speech), rather than an interruption or abrupt halt, for which you use a dash.

Some houses prefer no spaces at all on either side of their ellipses and some (although happily, these are in the minority as I think it looks awful) prefer a space either side. I'm not sure which one I think is worse.

Dashes are more tricky. House style dictates, as usual. First rule is to remember that they are NOT interchangeable with hyphens, and that you need to show the difference between dashes and hyphens, usually by using two hyphens without a space between them to indicate a dash.

Whether or not you use a space either side of your dashes, like this:

text -- text

or don't, like this:

text--text

is up to you and the dictates of your style guide. I usually default to the latter, with no spaces, as it's what is preferred by the Chicago manual, which is what most American publishers default to when they're unsure.

Then you have to consider em- and en-dashes: the en and em refers to how much room they should take up on the line. The choice here is, once again, mostly a matter of house style although years ago there were specific situations when each one was used. If I'm in any doubt I usually default to the em-dash throughout rather than the en, as it's easier to differentiate from hyphens and so leads to a clearer text.

Finally, I'd ask everyone to use as few dashes and ellipses as possible as otherwise your text is going to look like the punctuation-spider has been sick all over it. Not a pretty thing, and very distracting to the reader.

There. I just hope Sally is grateful. After all--she asked.

7 comments:

DOT said...

If she isn't, I am. I love - dare I say - anal analyses of punctuation as I tend to be consistently inconsistent in my usage.

Sally Zigmond said...

Huge thanks. I now see I've been doing it all wrong, as well as giving that vomiting spider control of my keyboard.

Could we have more of the same please, Mr Editor? Semi-colons perchance?

Floyd M. Orr said...

I agree totally with what you have stated in this post. What you may not be aware of is the outrageous level of laziness and naivete you are soon to discover when you actually begin reviewing POD books. This is why you may have witnessed so much discussion of the subject at PODBRAM. My big issue is that no one seems to fully recognize the fact that these technical issues have practically nothing to do with the sales success, or lack thereof, of POD books! If you doubt what I am stating here, I challenge anyone to read some of the reviews at PODBRAM, and then compare these reviews to the rankings at Amazon. Although I stand behind this analysis, I also stand firm with the proprietor of this website. Punctuation, editing, and proofreading are important to make a POD book look like any other book, instead of some inferior, amateurish product. As a very experienced analyzer of such issues, I can tell you that the single biggest problem is a lack of proper proofreading. If all POD authors would simply read their manuscripts aloud to another person who is following along in the text of a second, identical copy, with the author making the corrections in the first copy as he reads, most of this issue could be eliminated. The problem is more closely related to naivete and laziness than it is to incompetence.

HelenMH said...

I will keep that vomiting spider in mind next time I am tempted to overuse the ellipsis.

lgould said...

I purchased the proofreading service offered by iUniverse for my novel, The Rock Star's Homecoming. I was shocked when the proofreader tagged over 200 errors in a manuscript I thought I had reviewed carefully. Hyphenated words seemed to be my main downfall. For example, according to their interpretation of current industry standards, words such as "noncommittal," "antiwar" and "multimillionaire" are non-hyphenated, while "long-haired," "late-night" and "peace-and-love" are hyphenated. Guess it doesn't always help that much to be a former English major.

The Self-Publishing Review said...

Igould, I think you were done and in your place I'd check to see if the American version of MS Word concurs with the versions that iUniverse's proofreader suggested.

I'd prefer "noncommittal," "anti-war", "multi-millionaire", "long-haired," "late-night" and "peace and love". But what do I know? I'm only an editor.

I'd say that so long as you were consistent with your use of hyphens then you could have stuck to your guns, and safely ignored those particular comments.

Jane Smith said...

If you want to submit a book to me you can now email me at "hprw at tesco dot net", putting "The Self-Publishing Review" in the subject field, and I'll send you an address to submit to.