Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ask the Editor: Further v Farther, Em dashes, and All Right v Alright


Every 1st and 3rd Thursday, I'll take your editorial questions. Grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure and more! I will showcase questions and answers (with permission) once I get questions as well. To ask a question, please fill out the form below.

I've been a freelance editor since November 2010. If I don't know the answer, I will find it.  

Sue Roebuck asks, “I always thought I was quite good at grammar until my novel was recently edited by the publisher (gulp). I never realized the difference between "further" and "farther". I think I know the difference now, but do you have a quick way of remembering the difference? And why don't editors like hyphenated words (like no-one for example)?”

Ah, the “further” vs “farther” thing got you too! I had the hardest time with those two as well when I was writing Once Upon a December Nightmare. The thing I learned is when you mean “more” it is “further,” but “more in distance” is “farther.”

Farther = More in distance, physical distance, think FAR
Further = More, figuratively

For further information, please click here. You won’t have to go much farther to find out more about “further” and “farther.”

Christine Rains asks, "When you're writing dialogue and the character speaking gets cut off in mid-sentence, what is the proper way to indicate this?

I've always used a dash.
Example: "What the h-"

Recently, I was told that's incorrect. I should be using an em dash or a double dash.
Example: "What the h--"

All these changing rules sometimes confuse me!" 

Yes, the em dash is the correct way to write a sentence such as “What the h—” In Microsoft Word, it automatically creates an em dash when you type the two dash marks and continue the sentence. By the way, if at all possible, you want it to look like an em dash (—) instead of two dashes (--) together.

But we’ll look into this a bit further. There are three types of dashes: the hyphen (-), the en dash (), and the em dash (—).

Hyphens (-) are used to separate compound adjectives, verbs, or adverbs. You create a hyphen by using the minus key in Windows-based keyboards.
Example: According to Jurassic Park, the T-rex has a movement-based vision.

En Dash () is used to express a range of values or distance. In MS Word, you can put an En Dash either from the menu by clicking the symbol for it or the key-combination, Ctrl + Num -.
Example: The Ravens lost to the Steelers by 21–27.

Em Dash (—) is used to set off abrupt parenthetical elements, to cut off dialogue and thoughts mid-sentence, and to separate the final part of a sentence that is logically not part of the sentence (similar to a colon in this context). In MS Word, you can type two hyphens together to get an Em Dash.
Examples: What the h—
We arrived at McDonalds—don’t we always go there—and got a Shamrock Shake and a Caramel Mocha with fries.

For more information on these dashes, click here

Marta Szemik asks, “When do you use “all right” vs. “alright”? Is “alright” just an informal way of saying “all right”? 

All right means adequate, permissible, or satisfactory.
For example: His story was all right.

Alright is a misspelling of “all right.” Yeah, most grammar sources agree that “alright” is not a word.

But “alright” is used a lot. Most people know what it means, so it is one of those words that is in flux right now. So in general, it is best to stick with “all right.”

All right?

To read more on the “all right” v “alright,” click here


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've always used "all right."
And in my manuscripts, I tend to just avoid all dashes. That way, I don't use them wrong.

Clarissa Draper said...

I used to use alright, then my editor told me it's wrong and I changed. However, because alright is more common, I think both are used in novels.

Sorcha said...

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Callie Leuck said...

"alright" is one of my pet peeves.

I love dashes—I think they're much nicer, visually, than parentheses—but I do still struggle with the difference between the en-dash and the em-dash. It can be tricky!

Carol Kilgore said...

Ah, the en dash. Finally I know when to use one. Thanks!

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

"Alright" is totally a spelling error. And I recently saw it spelled that way in John Carter...a $250 million dollar movie. I almost screamed. How can you f-ing spend that much on a movie and then NOT check for spelling in subtitles?

Christine Rains said...

Thanks for the answers! I've only recently started using "all right" but I still type "alright" first out of habit. *LOL* I also found out how to have LibreOffice turn two dashes into an em dash. So I'm set there. :)

Susan Roebuck said...

Thank you Cherie. Lots of good information here. Oh, the em dash, hyphen and en dash - that was another problem. Sorted out now :-)

Nicole Zoltack said...

Alright makes me cringe every time I see it!

Rachel Morgan said...

I've looked up the "all right/alright" one before, but not the "further/farther" one. Thanks for the tips :-)

Jamie Gibbs said...

Ahh damn it, I always use "alright" - though technically in the Welsh valleys it's used as a colloquial greeting, so it's cool so long as it's in dialogue (and in context) right?