I am writing an essay with a restrain of word count and therefore cannot afford to add any words. I am currently struggling with the punctuation of this following sentence:

The capitalized “I” embodies “Individualism”: the placing of first names first[—]while in Vietnamese culture, surnames precede, emphasizing the primacy of kinship. American English espoused equality since there are no reverent pronouns, no relational implications when “I” speak to “you,” while Vietnamese “bác” explicitly connotes status.

Which should go in between the brackets? Is the em-dash correct? Or should I use a semi-colon to keep similar ideas in a sentence? If the latter is the correct choice, my question then proceeds to: "What punctuations are allowed to precede the word 'while' since it usually connects without any punctuation?

  • to me, no dash is required. Semi-colon looks fine. 'Em' dashes generally replace commas.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 6:23
  • Em dashes are a much more serious pause than a comma; they are an interruption on a par with parentheses. Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 10:57
  • Of course, American English developed from British English. British English did have separate pronouns, familiar versus respectful, like modern German, but only the respectful form survived in speech and the familiar/intimate was relegated to prayers, which tend to be figuratively (and often are literally) etched in stone. So the argument about equality that you're advancing may have some linguistic support but not in the pronouns we use. And what do you make of Icelandic, where the first name comes first and the surname comes second, but the form of the surname emphasizes kinship?
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 16:58
  • A semicolon would be ungrammatical.
    – user230
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 0:03

1 Answer 1


Yes, you can use the em dash, but the colon after "Individualism" has to go. Use a pair of em dashes, thus:

  • ...Individualism—the placing of {first/given} names first—while in. . ."

Also, I think you might have meant espouses rather than espoused.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .