I know the meaning of this sentence. But can I change `this’ to ‘that’?

For example,

I think you should get a proper job. But don't take that—a proper job—the wrong way.

Oh and could you check the dashes whether I use it correctly? Thank you!

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    I'm not sure you do understand the normal meaning of "Don't take this/that the wrong way", if you think that = a proper job in your example. In fact, this and that both actually refer to the entire statement (which more often follows the "disclaimer", rather than precedes it). If the disclaimer comes first, you must use this (that is only valid when referencing something already known, not something about to be said). Native speakers wouldn't normally repeat a specific element like "a proper job" in your context, but if you feel you must, dashes or brackets are okay – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 11 '14 at 22:01
  • For the record, I then changed those to em-dashes. – BobRodes May 12 '14 at 18:07
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    And to make a note, the listener will often hear this as a "non-apology apology" - a phrase that attempts to absolve the listener from the responsibility for what they just said. It's better to be more straightforward and accept that the other person may feel offended: "I respect why you're doing this, but I still think you should get a proper job." – Joe McMahon May 13 '14 at 22:56

Usually, we use this if we are saying not to take it the wrong way before we tell the person what we want to say, and that if we are saying it afterwards:

Don't take this the wrong way, but I think you should get a proper job.
I think you should get a proper job, but don't take that the wrong way.

Your use of dashes is appropriate, but what you are enclosing in dashes is not. You are not asking the person not to take "a proper job" the wrong way. Rather, you are referring to your statement that you think he should get one. To do this correctly sounds awkward:

I think you should get a proper job, but don't take that—my thought that you should get a proper job—the wrong way.

The explanation set off in dashes doesn't add to the understanding of the request—we already know what "that" refers to—and therefore can and should be removed. (There's an example of how to use dashes for you.)

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  • This answer is excellent; the only correction I would make is the dash character. Both you and the OP are using two hyphens, rather than an "em dash", which is the correct character. In some word processing programs, if you type two hypens it will automatically convert them to an em dash, so that might be the source of the confusion. Aside from that small point I think this answer is wonderful, and if the OP hadn't specifically asked about dashes I probably would have ignored it. – WendiKidd May 11 '14 at 18:16
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    @WendiKidd, I do the two dashes thing, and it's because I am old, and grew up in ASCIIland, where we didn't have high-bit characters. If we wanted an em dash, we had to rub two hyphens together. After going out and catching them with our bare hands, of course. Up hill both ways. In the snow. – Codeswitcher May 11 '14 at 21:36
  • @WendiKidd Re: You are not asking the person not to take "a proper job" the wrong way. Actually, I thought maybe he was? As someone who has spent much of two decades avoiding "proper jobs" in favor of contracting, temping, self-employment, small business ownership, etc., my first read was that he realized the phrase "proper job" can be taken as an insult to whatever form of employment the addressed party was already engaged in. Like, "This freelance stuff is all well and good, but I think you should get a proper job, but don't take that -- a proper job -- the wrong way." – Codeswitcher May 11 '14 at 21:40
  • @WendiKidd: I will refer you to this first. I will then note that I have corrected the space-en-dash-space character combinations that were substituted for my double-hyphen characters (by JR?) in my above text to em-dashes. (more) – BobRodes May 12 '14 at 17:56
  • I submit, also, that the recent availability of the — character in Unicode character sets does not make incorrect the 150-year-old convention of using two hyphens to mean an em-dash in typewritten text. You will note that the character renders correctly in my post and fails to do so in the comments. As such, cynical and savvy old website developers such as myself tend to avoid their use, for reasons which this comment should make obvious. :) – BobRodes May 12 '14 at 18:00

Question 1: "Don't take this the wrong way but..."

This phrase is used by a speaker in order to let the listener know that what-is-about-to-be-said is not intended to be offensive. Often, however, this is used in a non-tactful manner as an excuse to say the offensive statement!

"Don't take this the wrong way, but I think you should get a proper job."
this = "I think you should get a proper job."*

The use of the phrase after the statement would mean the same thing:

"I think you should get a proper job, but don't take that the wrong way."
that = "I think you should get a proper job" (the entire clause preceding).

Question 2: Dash Usage (Em dashes, En dashes, Double Hyphens)

Using a dash to set off a parenthetical phrase is correct. Exactly what kind of dash you use, and how much (if any) space surrounds the dash is a matter of style. Your choice--two hyphens with no spacing--is perfectly acceptable, especially in informal writing. Some style guide variations include: em dashes, en dashes, no spaces around dashes, single spaces around dashes, or hair spaces.

References on dash usage and variations:

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  • I have no problem with the dashes, either, but there are other ways something like that could have been punctuated. Here's one I'd deem equally acceptable: I think you should get a proper job. But don't take that (a “proper” job) the wrong way. In other words, one could use dashes or parentheses to elaborate on what the word "that" refers to. – J.R. May 11 '14 at 23:05

BobRodes and CoolHandLouis have both given you excellent explanations of what the expression Don't take this the wrong way means.

A matter they do not address is how you should say what I think you mean, which is to warn your friend about good and bad ways of looking for a new job, If you want to use the phrase the wrong way in that connection, I suggest:

I think you should get a proper job. But don't go about it the wrong way. Get the job you want, then quit the one you're in now.

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  • Interesting. That never occurred to me as the OP's possible meaning, but it could very well be. – BobRodes May 11 '14 at 17:17

I read OP's interpolated —a proper job— immediately after that as unambiguously indicating that the thing he's warning his friend not to do is misinterpret the intended meaning of a "proper" job.

Without that interpolation, that could refer to the fact of offering "careers advice" in its entirety, which would probably represent the default interpretation (don't be offended that I think you should get a proper job). But in principle, that could still refer to the specific word proper, so we could say it's "ambiguous".

So long as the interpolation is present, I think it's irrelevant whether that is replaced by this. But if it's not present, I'd find it very hard to justify this as referring to just the meaning of the word proper. Only the default don't be offended sense would seem credible in that case. But we are where we are, and to my mind the only credible interpretation for OP's text is don't misunderstand what I mean by "proper job".

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