Please consider:

  1. Without so much as a call or a letter – he showed up.

Is sentence (1) above not only grammatical in syntax and morphology, but also acceptably punctuated according to guidelines for standard written English worldwide?

I know that dashes can be used to emphasize parenthetical information, but I feel as though the parenthetical element typically comes either within an enclosing set of dashes or else after a single dash, not before one. After all, dashes typically draw attention to and emphasize what comes after (or within).

Therefore, does placing a dash after a parenthetical element still draw attention to that parenthetical element, or does it draw attention to the independent clause which follows it?

Is it even good style to use a dash in a sentence with a parenthetical element in order to emphasize the independent clause rather than the parenthetical one?

Here’s an example of what I’m wondering about:

  1. He showed up – without so much as a call or a letter.

Here the emphasis is on without so much... in sentence (2) above, isn’t it?

And wouldn’t that be different from this?

  1. Without so much as a call or a letter – he showed up.

Because here in sentence (3) the emphasis is on ...he showed up, isn’t it?

But is this stylistically appropriate for sentences with this grammar?

  • Unable to understand the need for a parenthetical usage here.
    – Ram Pillai
    Dec 2, 2020 at 16:50
  • I don't think I've come across a rule / recommendation forbidding this, but I'd agree that placing the independent clause first is usual. Certainly you can't use sentence fragments ('Without so much as a call or a letter. He showed up.') fragment-first without suitable prior context. But if you use a comma as separator, the construction would raise no eyebrows. Dec 2, 2020 at 16:54
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    I don't think much of the dash there. Obviously it would look silly with a straightforward single-word adverb: Soon - he showed up, and I can't see why it should become more acceptable just because the adverbial element contains more than one word. Wearing his hat tipped at a jaunty angle - he showed up. I don't think so. The longer the adverbial element, the more justification there is for setting it off with a comma (as an aid to parsing, for the reader). But never a dash, imho. Dec 2, 2020 at 17:22
  • I'd say the way you presented it is fine. Others would use a different punctuation, but that's a personal choice. Revering the order of the phrases would shift the emphasis in a way that is probably not desired.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 2, 2020 at 18:33
  • Oops -- I meant "Reversing".
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 3, 2020 at 22:45

2 Answers 2


No need for a dash, a comma will suffice. The sentence, with the introductory phrase, is strong enough without the dash. See Harbrace College Handbook: With 1998 MLA Style Manual Updates, 13th Revised Edition (HODGES HARBRACE HANDBOOK) by John C. Hodges, Winifred Bryan Horner, et al. | Jan 1, 1998

  • 1
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    – Community Bot
    Dec 23, 2022 at 14:58
  • This is not an answer. A dash—if it is allowed here—makes for a stronger sentence. Dec 23, 2022 at 15:48
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    – tchrist
    Dec 24, 2022 at 15:18

Either option is fine. The second sentence where 'he showed up' is at the end of the sentence adds emphasis to the suddeness with which he appeared. It's really only a question of sylistic preference by the writer here.

  • 1
    'Answers' require a degree of support (here, from grammars and/or examples from respected authors) that 'comments' don't (though accuracy in 'comments' is also important). Dec 28, 2021 at 16:33
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Dec 30, 2021 at 16:17

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