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Is it professionally acceptable to place a dash after a question mark in the following example?

Bob: 'I don't like asking Matt but I need some help.'

Peter: 'Why don't you go and ask him to help you? - He's a really nice guy.'

I want to use the dash to highlight the reason for the function of the question which is to encourage Bob to ask.

1
  • If Peter doesn't like Matt, I would reword Peter's reply as: "What's the matter with Matt? Just go ask him -- he's a really nice guy." Or, if it's just that Peter doesn't like to ask for help from anyone, reword as: "Then ask for help, doofus! Matt's a really nice guy. He won't mind." Or, "What's wrong with asking for help? Matt won't mind, he's a nice guy."
    – dmm
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 22:53

3 Answers 3

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No, because the dash (which should properly be an M-dash, like this — ) is an interrupter. You can use it at the end of a broken-off phrase, or if a sentence is interrupted, but you need some kind of narration in between.

examples:

"Why don't you go and ask him to help you? He's a really nice guy," Peter added.

"Why don't you go and ask him to help you?" Peter quickly added, "He's a really nice guy."

"Why don't you go and ask him to help you? I know you don't like him —" Peter continued, his tone clearly indicating what he thought of Bob's attitude, "— but he's really a nice guy."

"Why don't you go and ask him to help you? I know you don't like him —" Bob made a face; Peter shrugged. "— but he's really a nice guy."

"I don't like to ask Matt for help — "
"Why don't you go and ask him to help you? He's a really nice guy," Peter added.

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  • I would point out in dialog, the dash should occur when it's clear that the sentance without the thought being completed. Typically they should follow conjunctions (and, but, or, ect.) or stopping mid-word after it's clear what the word would have been if allowed to continue. (I.E. Me: Then Sam said "Motherf- You: I get the point). +
    – hszmv
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 13:16
  • Additionally, your examples have some flaws in them. Examples. In 3, the dash is used in place of a comma, since the change in tone is occuring at the same time as the dialog is being spoken, or near enough that it's the same action. In example 4, the 1st quote should be a complete sentence or an ellipse followed by a new paragraph describing Bob's face, followed by another paragraph with Peter's response. A dash would be used for a more immediate interrupt, but Bob's action is not an interrupt to Peter's thought, just order of actions. +
    – hszmv
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 13:26
  • Example 5 adds a dash to what can stand as a complete sentence,. Something should be added here to show clearly that Bob was interrupted mid sentence. As a final note, Peter's dialog in both 1 and 5 should not be tagged with "added" as he was allowed to get his full thoughts out without interrupting actions. 1,2, and 5 are all examples of poor use of dialog tags in an attempt to avoid repeated use of "said" which many new writers believe looks boring. More experienced writers learn to ignore this (I made this mistake when I started writing... it's a common problem.).
    – hszmv
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 13:33
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I think the key here is that you know what it would feel like to try to speak with these sentences in mind, but you don't know what it would actually sound like.

Most people, in speaking, do not speak in complete sentences. David Mamet is a master of portraying realistic dialogue on page.

But most people, in reading well written, properly grammatical text, don't realize it is not at all how they would speak.

So the answer is to not mix the two. Don't try to write as it would sound and write grammatically at the same time. The disparity between the two is jarring.

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You can use an exclamation point before a dash, but I don't think you should in your case as em dashes are usually used in pairs similarly to parentheses.

CMOS 6.87 gives the following example:

Without further warning—but what could we have done to stop her?—she left the plant, determined to stop the union in its tracks.

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