E is for Em-dash


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Okay writers—how many of you confess to misunderstand the use of the em-dash?

I had a hard time finding the em-dash on my MS Word. In my version, it is under the symbol tab, but in the “more characters” section in the “special characters” section of that. A copy editor told me that in books, it is the em-dash we should be using. My confusion—is whether to use the em-dash or the dots . . . . The rule for the dots is three with spaces in-between and four (actually 3 dots and 1 period) at the end of the sentence.

According to Wikipedia, both the en-dash and the em-dash may be used to denote a break in a sentence or to set off parenthetical statements, although writers are generally cautioned to use a single form consistently within their work. In this function, en dashes are used with spaces and em-dashes are used without them:

In matters of grave importance, style—not sincerity—is the vital thing.

In matters of grave importance, style – not sincerity – is the vital thing.

The en-dash (but not the em dash) is also used to indicate spans or differentiation, where it may be considered to replace and or to:

The French and Indian War (1754–1763) was fought in western Pennsylvania and along the present US–Canadian border (Edwards, pp. 81–101).

The em-dash (but not the en-dash) is also used to set off the sources of quotes:

In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing. — Oscar Wilde

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5 thoughts on “E is for Em-dash

  1. This is a big one for me. I honestly didn’t even know what they were called until last year, I just instinctively used them! Going to book mark this post, though – very helpful!

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  2. Proper usage of m and n dashes has always confused me, I just went by what “looks right.” ;-p Even as an editor I have to keep checking on which to use. Thanks!
    Oh, btw, another a to z blogger is doing Em-dashes today…using cats! LOL! (He calls them Grammaticats)

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  3. I must say that I sit here with a smile on my face as it is always confusing with the correct way to use this. I figure, I will try to do the very best I can with what I understand and if it is wrong I’m sure between my critique partners and an editor they will be sure to point out whether it is right or wrong. Of course I hope it is write because that means I do get it. 🙂

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