The em dash —

The sense of relief is palpable around here.

I’d been seeing queries (QueryShark) and comments from writers that included this mysterious punctuation: –. Well I studied English at school (in England) and had never ever been taught to write this — ever. I’ve been spending the best part of a month worrying that I had missed an important say at school. Was it when I had the chicken pox? When I had my appendix out? Was it the day I sneaked out to meet a boy from the next door school?

Not so much. After meticulous research (OK, I just googled ‘UK punctuation’) I found out that there is no such thing as an em dash in the English, English language. Phew. We just use a straight dash and assume that people can tell the difference between a hyphenated word and a clause in a sentence.

Now when I write the em dash, it feels squinky. But I guess I’ll have to embrace it if I ever want to be published in the US. And I’m a REALLY dashy person too; I’ve got dashes all over the place in nearly everything I’ve ever written. Maybe I need to admit I need help on that one and start a 12 step program.



9 thoughts on “The em dash —

  1. Suze

    Please let me know what you find out. I'm constantly concerned that I'm using it the wrong way, or haven't fully understood it's function at all!

    And so happy to see a fellow blogger who uses ellipses… and yes, I had to look up how to spell that.

    Have a great weekend!

  2. DL Hammons

    My understanding of the em dash is that it's used for communicating interrupted conversation or an internal thought cut short. I missed that one in school as well.


  3. Suze

    Thank DL! Do you think people (for that read other writers, agents, editors, publishers) are perturbed if one uses the hyphen instead of the em dash?

  4. Kristin Rae

    I've been looking through some books that I've read, and I don't see this em dash anywhere. Most conversation cut offs are hyphens. So, maybe it doesn't really matter. I'm sure the publisher will just change it if it's the version of dash they don't like to see.

  5. Suze

    Kristin… I think when you make the — in windows, and type a word after it, it makes a long dash, ie with no space in between the two dashes. That's an em dash. There is even a function key that does it for you (I'm using a Mac and haven't figured out how to do it). I think you have to hit F1 and type 1551 on the keypad part of the keyboard. It's not exactly what I would term 'user friendly' but there you go πŸ™‚

    I'm going with what you said anyway πŸ™‚

  6. Kristi

    I have no clue what this em dash is for and I've never used it in my writing either!

    I followed you here from Elana's blog and I see so many familiar faces! I'll definitely be back!

    Great post!


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