Welcome to Raya’s Dungeon

Chamber 01 – Part 1

Raya’s Pleasure Palace of Perfect Punctuation
Positioning Pathetic Parenthetical Phrases Properly


Two pathetic participles waiting to dangle.

Ever see a naked parenthesis? A dangling participle? A traumatized comma? All of these shocking items will be exposed in….RAYA’S DUNGEON GEON geon

Okay, cheesie – but it got your attention…otherwise most people won’t come within ten feet of grammar and punctuation guidelines….AHAH! caught you yawning already!

 I am only gonna deal with one item today…one that I see a lot of writers having trouble with…mostly because I think some of you don’t understand some of the principles behind grammar and/or punctuation. (Or maybe your English teacher was a witch who gave broomsticks a bad name.)  


The branches of a lone Joshua tree enclosing and separating a part of the moody sky from the rest of the prairie wilderness.

Everyone knows what parentheses are ( ) – those are parentheses. They are used to enclose and separate, modify without being obtrusive, keep the flow and provide additional information; oh, and yeah, to make smiley faces.

There are also other means of creating parenthetical phrases:
– with the double dash
–like this–
– and with ellipses
like this(please note there are ONLY three dots in the ellipse and no spaces on either side)
– a final and very acceptable way is with commas, like this, see?

It is almost like coding. If you start a parenthetical phrase with one of its codes, you must end it with that same code. Thus, if you are wise, you will remember to open and close your parenthetical phrase. The codes, in this case, are either the parentheses ( ), the em dash or double dash (–), the ellipse (…), and the comma (,).

What is a parenthetical phrase? And why should I care? Basically a parenthetical phrase is a modifier…a phrase that increases understanding of whatever it is referring to. How do you know it’s a parenthetical phrase? Because, if you take it away from the sentence, the sentence will still stand on its own. And you should care because I said so and will toss you into the deepest…er…because a parenthetical phrase enriches your writing and is a tool to help you create your own unique style.

Polly, wanting a cracker, started to sing. The parenthetical phrase there (in italics) could be removed and the sentence, although not as rich as with the parenthetical phrase, would still stand alone. You can see that you could substitute any of the other parenthetical signifiers.

"No more singing. Gimme the damn cracker."

Polly (wanting a cracker) started to sing. Doesn’t look as good though. Using parentheses for parenthetical phrases makes it seem like you don’t really want to come right out and say it. It gives the appearance of being shy…and sometimes disorganized. Which is good, if that is the energy you want to portray, right?

Polly–wanting a cracker–started to sing. Yeah, it works, but I still prefer commas. This style is a little more abrupt and intrusive.

Polly…wanting a cracker…started to sing. Sounds like a James T. Kirk speech, but it works, better than the other two anyhow, and almost as good as the commas. Shows more hesitancy or pauses before and after the parenthetical phrase.

Which style of parenthetical phrase you use depends on the mood you are trying to convey in your writing. Keep in mind that, whichever set of parenthetical signifiers you use, you don’t have to use any others at that point, i.e. you don’t need to use parentheses AND commas…one set of signifiers will be enough. Otherwise you are mixing your code up.

I urge writers to start experimenting. One of the things you are gonna work up is your own unique style. I mostly use commas and ellipses (…) – and that is part of my style. A crisper style might use commas or the double dash (–), and the more scientific style might use the parentheses ( ). Experiment and see which suits you and which suits the mood of the piece you are writing.  



  1. Hi Sandra,

    I finally got the chance to have a look at your blog. I am so delighted. 🙂

    I read this post and I must say that I prefer the double dash. Although I try and use them sparingly, I find that sometimes nothing else will do. Thats how I think – bits and pieces hit me that I have to add there and then. Fun. 🙂

    You know, English is my second language and that’s why I have to pay extra attention to grammar and punctuation. I am always double checking for errors. As soon as native speakers of English start talking about grammar, I want to run away and hide somewhere safe. I devour anything and everything on writing nonfiction, grammar and rules of language. In blogging I find, readers are impressed more with ideas and organization itself so this medium (web writing) suits me better. Fingers crossed. I am so obsessive when it comes to learning – its bordering on a disorder. 🙂 Can you suggest any reader friendly books on grammar, writing and the like?

    Anyway, loved your post. See you later.


    • Hi, Marya, I’m glad you like my blog. I kind of figured that English was your second language, but I wasn’t sure, because you write it so well. I just want to mention that writers use the double dash to indicate an em dash if their word processiing program doesn’t allow special characters such as the em dash. That is, the double dash is a substitute for the em dash.

      One of my favorite online resources for grammar punctuation is Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. She covers a wide variety of subjects and is quite accurate.

      Another helpful resource is the forum on my site, FantasyFic.com. Go to the side navbar and click on Forum. The forum contains all kinds of interesting and informative posts and sections on grammar and punctuation, marketing tips, publishing tips, points on style and improving writing. There are also tons of stories to read. If your forte isn’t fantasy fiction, you can still register as a reader, and, who knows? At some point you may want to try your hand at a fantasy short story. If I remember correctly, Pakistani folklore and fairy tales are chock full of rich tradition and imagination. You might be tempted to write a fantasy along those lines. In any event, if you do decide to join up, let me know so that I can give you access to the various hidden private forums.

      The book that used to be the grammar/punctuation bible for writers is Elements of Style by Strunk & White. It had everything you needed to know at the time about the correct way to punctuate, use grammar, and to write.

      Nowadays, I prefer using The Chicago Manual of Style. It has answers for practically every grammar/punctuation question in existence. Of course it is a “style” manual, which means that it is one of the styles out there. A lot of newspapers use the CMOS though.

      Hope these help. Thanks for visiting, and a Happy new Year!


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