Category Archives: Punctuation

A Dash of Controversy

"Controversy" — Karl Henning

“Controversy” — Karl Henning

Following on my previous dashing post, which I have updated for greater clarity, I was reminded while doing my latest editing commission today that there is an aspect I did not cover. First, though, my heading has made me want to touch again on the controversy controversy.

In earlier days I recall that the word was invariably pronounced con-TROV-er-see, which is what I was taught. Then, radio and TV announcers suddenly switched to CON-troh-verse-ee. There seemed to have been a brief return to the original, but lately the latter has predominated again.

I believe the former was the more logical pronunciation, mainly for the reason that it is not ‘contrAversy’ where the new pronunciation would make sense. ‘Contra’, as meaning ‘against’, would take the emphasis. However, with the word spelt correctly, for ‘contro’ to be singled out is illogical. Admittedly a case could be made for the ‘CON’ form when one considers the development to ‘controversial’. There, ‘con-TROV-er-shall’ would sound silly. It becomes ‘contro-VER-shall’ indeed. Still, I am not persuaded that this necessarily means that the shorter ‘con’ form should CON-form!

Thoughts from the groundnut gallery?


Now, em dashes with other punctuation. The question is whether commas or semi-colons should be kept when using dashes to insert another thought in a sentence, and if so where they should be placed.

A sample sentence:

Many of those present, using strong language, disagreed completely.

Now, insert the other thought:

Many of those present, using strong language — and in that part of the country it can be very strong — disagreed completely.

Here it has lost one comma, replaced by the dash, as the Chicago Manual of Style, among others, agrees should happen.

Numbers of other authorities argue, however, that the original punctuation should remain, so that if the section between dashes is taken out the sentence is still correctly punctuated. They have a valid point. It can arise that a difference in meaning will occur without the second comma, even though this doesn’t arise in my example.  (It would, on the first comma, if the sentence were something like:  Every weekend now he runs, away from home, to experience more professional tracks elsewhere.)

If it is decided to keep the full original punctuation, the question arises as to where to place it:

Many of those present, using strong language, — and in that part of the country it can be very strong — disagreed completely.


Many of those present, using strong language — and in that part of the country it can be very strong ––, disagreed completely.

Now the brain can get boggled. The first version looks neater, as it avoids jamming a comma against a dash. However, the section between dashes relates to the ‘language’ clause, not the ‘disagreed’ one, so the break is happening in the wrong place, there.

My conclusion:

Keeping the comma is preferable, and that comma should appear in the clause it relates to, as in the second version ‘—,’ .

Or, avoid the problem altogether with:

Many of those present disagreed completely, using strong language — and in that part of the country it can be very strong.

With question or exclamation marks, much the same applies, but it is often better to use …? ellipses …!

© September 2016 Leslie Hyla Winton Noble (WordPress)

A Dash of Punctuation

 Dashing from Dashes

– – —  Dash

I am fond of using dashes in my writing — dash it all, why not?. However, I have tended to become lazy, and to use a hyphen for all purr-pussies. (As in kit-cat?)  🙂
As a professional editor, I should be more meticulous. There is a distinct difference between appearance and usage of a hyphen, an en dash, and an em dash. Here are the rules for each, and I have resolved to stick to them in future.

The hyphen (-) is found on the top row of the keyboard below the underline. It is used without spaces to join two or more words into one concept such as up-to-date or flower-child.


An en dash (–) has the width of ‘n’; it is obtained by using Ctrl and the minus sign on number keys*; and is primarily used to replace the word ‘to’. Examples: Opening hours 8:00 a.m.–5:00p.m., or ‘The final score was 3–1’ or ‘Trading results were up–down’ (arguable) or ‘From A–Z’. *(Update: or press down Alt while keying 0150 on number keys.)


The em dash (—) has m width; for this you press Ctrl, Alt and minus sign on number keys*; denotes a pause or a different line of thought. Examples: ‘If you keep interrupting, I can’t finish a —’ or ‘How do you do — reminds me, wonder how he did?’ or ‘He spoke confidently — though there was little for him to be confident about — for some time.’ No spaces are necessary before or after, but some writers—including myself—think this non-spaced result is too crowded. Whichever option is chosen should be used consistently.        *(Update: or press down Alt while keying 0151 on number keys.)

Final Update: Just to show clearly the actual differences between the em dash, the n dash, and the hyphen, I have superimposed them under letters of the same font. Note the slightly lower level of the hyphen.


© August 2016 Leslie Hyla Winton Noble (WordPress)