Punctuation marks that eliminate the need for other punctuation marks


“How do you feel about commas after em dashes?” a writer asked on Twitter recently. “For instance: If you want to have a great Sunday — and by ‘great’ I mean emotionally and spiritually satisfying —, then you should consider the one-hour bath.”

The question left me speechless. It’s like asking if you’d put two commas after Washington, D.C., if the name appeared in a list like, “We visited Washington, D.C.,, Chicago and Nashville.”

It’s like asking whether it’s a good idea to put an ellipsis before a colon, as in “Beth made an important observation …: the door was unlocked.”

The answer to all these questions is an emphatic “no.” The reason: Sometimes one punctuation mark can preclude the need for another. Here, laid out in my recent column, are some examples.

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