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I use em dashes frequently to break up random or ancillary thoughts in my writing. However, I'm uncertain how to deal with punctuation after an em dash when my sentence continues. For example, which of the following is correct?

If at first you don't succeed—I seem to encounter this scenario frequently—try, try again.

If at first you don't succeed—I seem to encounter this scenario frequently—, try, try again.

Would I discard the comma in this case? It seems unnatural to keep it.

EDIT: I originally left out an obvious comma between the two "try"s, but that shouldn't affect the intent of my question.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

My advice would be to avoid this situation if possible, by recasting the sentence. If that is impossible, which I agree it sometimes is, I say you should add the comma. This will give the reader of such an often-complicated sentence the additional help of consistency, ugly though it may be. Fowler, who is usually stingy with punctuation marks, agrees. So does Fowler's modern editor Burchfield, citing him:

... after a second dash 'any stop that would have been used if the ... dashes and their contents had not been there should still be used'.

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Excellent. Yes, I try to restructure any sentences that lend themselves to this situation, but it's nice to know that other, more educated, people have weighed in on this exact case. Many thanks. –  LucasTizma Jan 24 '11 at 22:43

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, you should drop the comma. See section 6.86: "In modern usage, if the context calls for an em dash where a comma would ordinarily separate a dependent clause from an independent clause, the comma is omitted." No word on commas that separate independent clauses from each other, however, which is the case that brought me here.

Luckily, Wilson Follett's Modern American Usage contains a relevant example sentence: "C. had questioned everyone who had seen the shooting—but did he know for certain who owned the gun?"

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Should the second em dash be dropped? –  JohnS Feb 16 at 1:12
    
Do you mean dropping the second em dash and the comma or just dropping the em dash? Either way, I would think it is more confusing if you drop the em dash. –  A Brooks Mar 3 at 0:52

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