Posts Tagged ‘ punctuation ’

Punctuating Side Comments: Comma, Em Dash, and Parentheses

You probably know you should set off parenthetical expressions with a comma, as in this example:

The dominatrix, a silver fox in a leather dress, kicked me and told me to beg for more.

But what about parentheses? It’s called a parenthetical expression after all! Can we set off the same parenthetical expression within parentheses? And what about dashes? What’s the difference?

Sure, you could go ahead and use parentheses or dashes in the example above. It would look like this:

The dominatrix–a silver fox in a leather dress–kicked me and told me to beg for more.

The dominatrix (a silver fox in a leather dress) kicked me and told me to beg for more.

But it wouldn’t be quite right. Commas, parentheses, and em dashes each have their particular meanings.

Use comma to set off a parenthetical expression that requires only a slight break, That is, the parenthetical expression flows well as part of the greater sentence, as in our original example.

The dominatrix, a silver fox in a leather dress, kicked me and told me to beg for more.

Use em dash to set off a parenthetical expression that requires a strong break because it amplifies or explains something or because it is sudden:

The dominatrix–indicating her dominance with a whip and spiked heels–kicked me and told me to beg for more.

Use parentheses to set off a parenthetical expression that requires a strong break and is not  as closely related to the rest of the sentence:

The dominatrix (we’d seen her here before dressed as a slave) kicked me and told me to beg for more.

You can use all of these punctuation marks to set apart parenthetical expressions in your writing. Ask yourself, does this expression flow with the rest of the sentence? (Use comma.) Does it add sudden amplification? (Use em dash.) Or is it not very closely related to the rest of the sentence? (Use parentheses.)

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Sex Shops & Bullets

Business writers use a lot of bullets, and bullet lists have become popular in many forms of writing. But just because you have bullets doesn’t mean you can slack off on grammar and punctuation. Here are a few tips to keep your bullet lists sexy and smart.

Be consistent with capitalization. You may choose to capitalize each list item as though it were a title.

The local Sex Pop shop offers:

  • Video Booths
  • DVD Rental
  • Novelty Gifts

Or you can keep it all in lowercase:

Sex Pop also offers:

  • glory holes
  • a wide selection of top-quality personal lubricants
  • hundreds of brands of condoms

If one item on a list is a complete sentence, they all should be.  And punctuate accordingly.

Sex Pop Shop Closing Procedures

  • Mop all video booths.
  • Shut down DVD console.
  • Straighten merchandise displays.

If one item on a list is a single concept, other items should not be complete sentences. For bullet-list items that are not complete sentences, use minimal or no punctuation.

Sex Pop Shop Opening Procedures

  • condoms organized
  • neon sign on
  • register reconciled

Sometimes a bullet list completes a preceding sentence rather than standing on its own as a sentence or single concept. In this case, begin each bullet item in lowercase and punctuate it as a completed sentence.

Our new kinky toys selection will empower you to:

  • learn rope and bondage tricks.
  • practice whipping and flogging.
  • explore leather, vinyl, and lace fetishes.

As with lots of punctuation and grammar rules, consistency is key. Bullets are a great way to engage readers because we can read them quickly and easily. Also see this Sexy Grammar lesson about lists in prose.

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Don’t— Stop . . . Don’t stop! Ellipses and Em Dashes

You already know to end a sentence with a period, and you know the other forms of terminating punctuation too. Use a question mark, also known as an interrogation point, to express a query. Use an exclamation point to show an outcry of excitement or emphasis. These are all valid ways to stop a sentence.

Edie’s feeling agitated and bored.

Will Trixie come to her rescue?

Trixie and Edie are at it again!

But sometimes a sentence trails off or gets interrupted, and we have to end it in a different way. Lots of people use ellipses and em dashes incorrectly though the rules are easy.

Use ellipses points to tell the reader that the speaker’s speech is faltering or to emphasize that you have deliberately left something out.

Trixie’s eyes wandered over Edie’s exposed breasts, down her trembling belly, and finally focused . . .

Think of ellipses as the literary French film tilt, when the lovers reach for each other across the pillow and the camera angle flies up to the ceiling, implying that sex ensues.

Ellipses can also show a speaker’s stutter, as in the next example.

“I’m . . . I’m not sure . . . what I want . . . ” Edie whispered.

Ellipses should have a space before the first period, after the last, and one between each of the three periods like this “ . . . ”  Space those dots out rather than shoving them together.

The em dash expresses interruptions in the flow of a sentence, somebody literally interrupting someone else in dialogue or an additional thought that interrupts the action.

“Oh, Trixie,” said Edie. “If you don’t stop—”

Trixie caught Edie’s lips in a rough kiss—she loved Edie’s lips—interrupting her.

Create an em dash in most word processing software by placing two dashes between two words with no spaces on either side—like that.  The software should automatically turn the two dashes into one for you.

What is Sexy Grammar?

Sexy Grammar is a lot of things. It’s the fun way I present writing tools and grammar guidelines like this one. But it’s also a philosophy—that writing and art satisfy a human urge to create, not unlike sex. Sexy Grammar is about letting your inner writer be sexy—turned on, engaged, and unapologetic. When you do that, your writing gets sexy, and that attracts readers.

Talking Dirty: Tags, Paragraphs, and Commas

Pardon me, for this blog post contains sexually explicit examples or content. If you are under the age of 18 or just uncomfortable with sexually explicit material, you may want to check out one of these sites about grammar and writing instead.

Dialogue Tags

A dialogue tag has two objectives: Continue reading

It’s an Apostrophe

I love to find simple, easy to use grammar tricks on the web, a link where I can go every time I need to use some form of the verb lay or lie, for instance.

So this link to simple rules for when to use an apostrophe made me pretty happy when I first glanced.  The Oatmeal presents some simple guidelines that will help you if apostrophes trouble you, but I disagree with several of their interpretations of the exceptions.

Still, their layout is snazzy, their graphics (as you can see above) are witty, and the order in which they present their concepts does basically work for me. Here’s my re-interpretation, complete with sexy examples.

So, first, is it plural? Such as:

Their backsides jiggled in the air.

Her lashes fluttered near her cheek.

If so, no need to add an apostrophe. Just let the word be its plural self with its nice letter s at the end. There are no exceptions to this rule, as The Oatmeal would have you believe.

It is, in fact, a common mistake to use apostrophe to make numbers and acronyms plural, but there is no need to add an apostrophe to make any word plural–even if the word is a number or an acronym.

INCORRECT: Unsafe sex can sometimes lead to STI’s, (that’s sexually transmitted infection).

CORRECT: Unsafe sex can sometimes lead to STIs.

I think maybe people like to add an apostrophe to an acronym to help make sure you don’t think the pluralizing s is part of the acronym, but since acronyms usually use all capital letters, the lowercase, pluralizing s really isn’t confusing. Same thing with numbers. No need to add an apostrophe when you are pluralizing a number.

INCORRECT: Since the 1980’s, many pornography images include condoms.

CORRECT: Since the 1980s, many pornography images include condoms.

Now, is it possessive? Are you relating that the noun in question owns something? If so, use an apostrophe plus the letter s:

. . . the hooker’s charm . . .

. . . her cunt’sdisposition . . .

. . . her ass’s sway . . .

. . . Chris’s lacy panties  . . .

Note in the examples above that it does not matter whether the noun ends in s or not, you still just add an apostrophe + s. This is the same for names that end in s as well as other nouns that end in s, such as penis and Charles.

. . . Charles’s penis’s foreskin . . .

As long as you’ve got just one Charles and he’s got just one penis, this should work for you. But wait. What if you do have a plural and possessive noun? Most of the time, plural words end in s, so most of the time, you will add just an apostrophe:

. . . her thighs’ sheen . . .

. . . . his biceps’ripple . . .


. . . women’s lingerie . . .

And that’s just because women, like men and geese, is a plural word that does not end in s.

Now let’s tackle the words it’s and its. These can be confusing because they breaks the rule above, “add apostrophe + s” for plurals. It is indeed, the one exception to that rule. Here’s all you have to remember:

it’s = it is

its = it possessive

It’s sexy to use good grammar. (it is)

It’s hot when you tickle my ear with your tongue. (it is)

But I don’t like the nibbling on its lobe. (it possessive)

This shoulder always gets sunburned; can’t you tell  by its freckles? (it possessive)

Think of it’s as a contraction, like can’t and wouldn’t. Just as you replace the spelled-out word not with the contracted n’t, you replace the word is in it is, with apostrophe + s.

And there it is, perhaps not as graphically rich as they did it at The Oatmeal, but at least a little more correct.