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Parentheses vs. double commas vs. dashes to provide additional detail

Here is the sentence where i struggled to find the grammatically correct form:

Just curious – what did you think of Mila , as a woman and as a person , when you met her?

and

Just curious, what did you think of Jessica -- as a woman and as a person -- when you met her?

Which one is correct and why?

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marked as duplicate by snumpy, Marthaª, Robusto, Thursagen, F'x Jun 2 '11 at 13:17

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@RegDwight I think this question is more about what to do when there is more than one encapsulation in a sentence. –  Adam Jun 1 '11 at 20:13
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2 Answers 2

'As a woman and a person' is a weak interruption and so should be set off by commas, not dashes. It's normal to use a comma to separate 'just curious', but in this case that would be ugly, so I would use a semi-colon instead:

Just curious; what did you think of Jessica, as a woman and as a person, when you met her?

Use of the semi-colon is not entirely standard, but it's also not unheard of, since 'just curious' pretty must stands alone as an utterance.

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Syntactically, and setting aside the specific case of "just curious" here for a moment, I think both formations are valid. The important thing is to not use the same indicator in confusing ways within the same sentence. So, for example, don't write "just curious -- what did you think of Jesica -- as a woman and as a person -- (etc)", because the use of unpaired and paired dashes in such close proximity is likely to be confusing.

I balked at "just curious" in the previous paragraph, because its use as a sentence fragment throws things off a bit. I wouldn't use that construct in formal writing, though I might instead use "I'm just curious". But if I did that, I would follow it with either a colon ("I'm curious about the following thing") or a dash; a comma would be too weak.

But if, instead of "just curious" you led with "therefore" or "however", I think either of your two constructs would be fine.

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