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I want to thank someone for helping me. I am trying to decide which of these is more appropriate:

  • Thanks for the clarification; that was helpful.
  • Thanks for the clarification – that was helpful.

What is the difference between these, and which one is more appropriate?

It seems to me that one phrase (the em-dash one) is focused on the clarification being the object that is helpful, whereas the other phrase (the semicolon one) is focused on possibly the thing that the clarification is addressing being helpful. Obviously, my intention here is for the clarification to be regarded as helpful. Am I correct in my thinking here?

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  • Insignificant difference; perhaps the dash signals a lengthier pause in reading, adding emphasis to the 'that was helpful' statement. No change in meaning. Apr 24, 2022 at 18:05
  • @EdwinAshworth I thought the semicolon was meant to signal a lengthier pause, since it signals more "detachment" between the clauses (it's meant to be used between two independent clauses)? And that's part of why I thought the em-dash would place more emphasis on the clarification being the object that is helpful. Apr 24, 2022 at 18:14
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    No. See the extract in the answer posted below. Apr 24, 2022 at 18:34

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From The Narrative Arc_Andrea Cranford (Crawford is a professional copywriter and copyeditor):

Should you use an em-dash or a semicolon?

The difference between an em-dash and a semicolon is the length and purpose of the pause it creates. An em-dash isolates the idea that follows; a semicolon combines two ideas into one. The best way to determine if you can use an em-dash or a semicolon is to try them both out in your sentence, then read it aloud. Listen for the beats and determine which conveys your point the best.

[Notes:

A Cranford goes on to analyse three sentences, stating her opinion on which choice is better in each, and why.

B Her article uses the em-dash here reflecting US usage, whereas many in the UK use a spaced en-dash in place of this usage.

C1 The dash, signalling a lengthier pause than the semicolon, separates to a considerable degree, the semicolon combines more, though not as much as a comma where one is possible.

C2 While certain sentences may work better with one or the other, one usually has a choice between the semicolon and the dash (and the colon and ellipsis should not be forgotten).

C3 There is rarely if ever a change in meaning forced by a change in such punctuation (between independent clauses), and none in the example in the question.]

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