The New Yorker’s ‘Comma Queen’ Offers Helpful Hints Around the Often-Confounding Subject of English Grammar

Mary Norris, known as the “Comma Queen” at the New Yorker, premiered her video series in March 2015 and regularly posts helpful hints around the often-confounding subject of English grammar. For example, Norris explains the difference between a dash (em dash) and a hyphen and the hybrid of the two (en-dash) before concluding that em dashes are clearer than commas in a written sentence and that people don’t speak in semi-colons.

The hyphen (-) is a short bit, used in compound words and to break words between syllables when they run over the end of a line. The en dash (–) is reserved for compound compounds—it’s an overgrown hyphen. The em dash (—) is the mad one, versatile enough to act as comma, semicolon, colon, or hybrid of all three, as well as to indicate an interruption. For instance, writing this introduction has played havoc with my—…

Norris also addresses such issues as the difference between “lay” and “lie” and when to use “fewer” or “less”.