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Punctuation 7: Other Punctuation (Dash, Parenthesis, Bracket, Ellipsis, Slash)

 

The dash should be used sparingly. It is mainly a mark of interruption, signalling a shift, insertion, or break. Type a dash by hitting the hyphen key on your computer twice in a row--like this. No spaces come before or after the dash.

A. Use the dash to mark an abrupt break in thought, a sudden change in tone, or faltering speech.

    The teacher's lecture--if you could call her endless rambling a lecture--lasted three hours.

    I soon found out the iguana didn't bite--he kissed.

    I think--I think she stole my purse!

B. Use the dash to set off nonessential material for emphasis or (if it contains commas) for clarity.

Dashes may be used instead of commas to set off and emphasize modifiers and other nonrestrictive elements (for an explanation of nonrestrictive elements, see Part 1, Section E of this essay).

    Four classmates--John, Jill, Harry, and Ned--are forming a study group.

    Though John and Jill are close friends--seeing each other every day and talking on the phone every night--John has no idea that Jill would like to go out on a date with him.

    The qualities that make our country great--freedom, opportunity, and equality--are gradually disappearing.

C. Use the dash after an introductory series.

The dash goes between the series and the statement that summarizes the series.

    Red, gold, orange, brown--the colors of fall filled the forest.

    Freedom, opportunity, equality--the qualities that make our country great are all disappearing.

D. Use the dash to announce a long appositive or summary.

In this case, a colon can also be used (see Part 3, Section A for an explanation of this use of the colon and for the definition of appositive). The colon is more formal than the dash and should usually be your choice. In informal writing you may use a dash in this way.

    The car's engine began to make a noise--a grinding, chugging, screeching squeal.

E. Use parentheses to set off nonessential material.

Parentheses indicate that the material inside them is not as important as the rest of the sentence. They de-emphasize the material inside them. To emphasize nonessential material, you can use commas, and to stress this material most strongly, you can use dashes (both discussed above).

This nonessential material usually expands, clarifies, illustrates, defines, or supplements the idea in the main part of the sentence.

The parts of the sentence outside the parentheses should always make sense grammatically if you removed the material within the parentheses.

Parentheses always come in pairs.

    At three years old, the male iguana (now approximately four feet long) will bob his head up and down rapidly to assert his dominance over other iguanas.

When a complete sentence enclosed by parentheses falls within another sentence, it should not begin with a capital letter or end with a period.

    The male iguana will also extend his dewlap (the dewlap is a flap of skin below his chin) and stand on his toes in an attempt to appear larger and more intimidating.

When a complete sentence enclosed by parentheses does not fall within another sentence, it must begin with a capital letter and end with the appropriate punctuation--within the parentheses.

    As a child, I loved going to the movies. (The only thing I loved more was eating.)

F. Use parentheses as labels for points on a list, for documentation, and for cross-references.

    A book proposal must include the following: (1) a synopsis of the book, (2) a biography of the author, and (3) sample essays.

    The iguana requires a diet high in calcium (Cavelos 24).

    The president constantly fought with his wife (see p. 236).

G. Use brackets to indicate changes or comments within quotations.

Brackets indicate that the words inside them are yours, and not those of the person you are quoting. You may want to use brackets to insert an explanation, a clarification, or an opinion.

    "The campus [of Saint Anselm College] is one of the most beautiful in the country."

    "He [C.S. Lewis] establishes a fascinating character in Edmund."

If a quotation contains an error, you should reproduce the quote exactly as it appears, including the error, but indicate that the error was not made by you by putting the word sic (Latin for "thus") in brackets immediately after the error. Since this is a foreign word, it should be italicized or underlined.

"Edmund is a selfrish [ sic], evil boy."

H. Use an ellipsis to indicate an omission in a quotation.

An ellipsis mark is made up of three spaced periods (. . .). Type this on your computer by hitting the period key and then the space key, and repeating this procedure two more times.

To show how to use the ellipsis, I first have to give you an original quotation to work from.

Original Quotation
"Getting ideas for writing about narratives seems difficult to some people, but in truth there are many good sources to help us. The easiest is keeping a reading journal, which would, quite naturally, contain both your insights and your questions. Whether or not you have a reading journal, open the text and review it; memory is fallible, but the page is unchanging." (Eric S. Rabkin)

Omission of the Middle of a Sentence

    Rabkin states, "Getting ideas for writing. . . seems difficult to some people, but in truth there are many good sources to help us."

If you delete words immediately after an internal punctuation mark, such as a comma, retain the punctuation before the ellipsis.

    "The easiest is keeping a reading journal, which would, . . . contain both your insights and your questions."

Omission at the Beginning of a Sentence
Do not use an ellipsis at the beginning of a quotation.

    Rabkin advises, "open the text and review it; memory is fallible, but the page is unchanging."

When you delete words at the beginning of a sentence that falls within a quoted passage, retain the previous sentence's punctuation, followed by the ellipsis.

    Rabkin states, "Getting ideas for writing about narratives seems difficult to some people, but in truth there are many good sources to help us. The easiest is keeping a reading journal, which would, quite naturally, contain both your insights and your questions. . . . open the text and review it; memory is fallible, but the page is unchanging."

Omission at the End of a Sentence
The ellipsis indicates that material is omitted when the omission would not otherwise by clear. You should use an ellipsis mark when the words you quote form a complete sentence that is different from the original. In that case, retain the sentence's end punctuation, followed by an ellipsis. But don't use an ellipsis at the end of a partial or incomplete sentence.

    Rabkin states, "Getting ideas for writing about narratives seems difficult to some people. . . ."

    Rabkin understands that finding a writing topic "seems difficult."

NOTE that if the quotation is followed by a parenthetical citation, the sentence period follows the citation.

    Rabkin states, "Getting ideas for writing about narratives seems difficult to some people. . ." (124).

Omission of Parts of Two Sentences

    Rabkin says, "Getting ideas for writing about narratives seems difficult to some people, but . . . open the text and review it; memory is fallible, but the page is unchanging."

Omission of One of More Sentences

If you omit one or more complete sentences from a quoted passage, retain the previous sentence's end punctuation, followed by an ellipsis.

    Rabkin writes, "Getting ideas for writing about narratives seems difficult to some people, but in truth there are many good sources to help us. . . . Whether or not you have a reading journal, open the text and review it; memory is fallible, but the page is unchanging."

Omission of Long Passages
When you omit one or more lines of poetry or a paragraph or more of prose, use a complete line of spaced periods across the full width of the quotation to indicate the omission.

I. Use the slash between terms to indicate the either is applicable.

In this case, the slash should have no space before or after it.

    I am taking English as a pass/fail course.

    A person should do whatever he/she feels is best.

J. Use the slash to mark line divisions of quoted poetry.

In this case, you should put a space both before and after the slash.

    In "Kubla Khan," Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes, "And here were forests ancient as the hills, / Enfolding sunny spots of greenery."

Exercises for Part 7
Insert dashes, parentheses, or slashes where necessary. Also insert any other necessary punctuation.

  1. Honesty decency integrity generosity these were the ideals by which she desired to live.
  1. Some outstanding actors Robert Redford and Paul Newman among them have shared star billing in at least one film.
  1. Everything pointed to one conclusion he was incredibly incurably insane.
  1. Stupid predictable and formulaic television shows destroy our ability to think.
  1. I wonder if are you happy?
  1. My first thought when I saw Mel Gibson aside from utter terror was an overwhelming desire to impress him.
  1. The average life-span of an iguana now about ten years has not significantly changed in the last one hundred years.
  1. Good hygiene requires 1 clean skin 2 clean teeth and 3 clean hair.
  1. Through the use of the Scholastic Aptitude Test SAT colleges determine which students they will admit.
  1. Mel Gibson is an actor director.
  1. You may respond by letter and or by e-mail.
  1. In the first essay of C.S. Lewis's book, Edmund betrays Lucy 24.

The following is a passage from an essay called "Things Fall Apart" by Art Carey.

    What do I mean by incompetence? Strictly speaking, it refers to a lack of ability, but today, for many Americans, incompetence has become a catchword for a larger malaise. Simply stated, we have lost our purpose, our moral ambition, our sense of social obligation. In this broader light, incompetence is the failure to do what you ought to do, either because you can't or because you won't.

    Incompetents come in two varieties: those who don't do what they should because they don't have the skill or training, and those who don't do what they should because they're lazy, sloppy, careless, and frankly, don't give a damn. The United States has plenty of both types, at every level of society, among all kinds of people, in all sorts of vocations and professions.

Pretend you are writing a paper analyzing the above passage. Write sentences for your paper that include quotes from the above passage. Omit various sections as directed, and insert ellipses and other punctuation as necessary.

  1. Use a quote omitting the middle of a sentence.
  1. Use a quote omitting the beginning of a sentence.
  1. Use a quote omitting the end of a sentence.
  1. Use a two- or three-word quote.
  1. Use a quote omitting the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next.
  1. Use a quote omitting one or more sentences.
  1. Insert an appropriate comment of your own into a quote using brackets.
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