Difference Between the En dash and the Em Dash
The Em Dash is longer than the En Dash. That’s it. That’s all there is to it, EXCEPT when, where, and how to use them.
The principal use of the En Dash is to connect numbers and, less often, words.
Example: Her happiest days, 1980–1985, were when she was teaching.
Example: The London–Paris train leaves in ten minutes.
Okay, we got that. So our discussion today will focus the Em Dashes.
A Definition of the Em Dash we can live with:
The em dash is used in much the way a colon or a set of parentheses is used; it can show an abrupt change in thought or be used where a full stop (period) is too strong and a comma too weak. Em dashes are sometimes used to set off summaries or definitions. Geraldine Woods (2005). Webster’s New World punctuation: simplified and applied. Webster’s New World. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-7645-9916-3.
Outlaws of Fiction
I have a sneaky suspicion—nothing concrete, mind you—that the use of Em Dashes became a favorite among writers when editors outlawed colons and semicolons.
Oh, you didn’t know that colons and semicolons were outlawed in fiction? Yes, we newbies will get our knuckles severely rapped if we use these hooligans.
Just take a look at the following: (Dare I use a colon here?)
There’s a running joke in the fiction world that you only get one semicolon per career, so you need to use it wisely. Marcy Kennedy Grammar For Fiction Writers
Colons and semicolons have no place on your pages unless absolutely necessary. Fiction is about flow and pace. Colons and semi-colons are about brevity, and they interfere with the natural flow of fiction.http://behlerblog.com/2008/04/02/when-a-manuscript-feels-sick
So here we are with Em Dashes, until we are told that they too have been run out of town and have joined up with Butch Colon and the Sundance Semicolon.
Guidelines For Use of Em Dashes
Clara—she had been awake most of the night—slouched over the kitchen table and moaned.
2. Use Em Dashes to amplify or explain.
The influence of three famous authors—King, Card, and Hugo—convinced her to become a writer.
3. Use Em Dashes to separate subject from pronoun.
Bravery—that was the priority he humbly pursued.
4. Most often the Em Dash is used to indicate sudden breaks. Interruptions. (Effective in interrupted dialogue but don’t confuse with trailing off dialogue.)
“Well, I don’t know,” Clara said. “I was thinking I might—”
“What the hell were you thinking? You might what…” Joe tried to control his anger and paced in front of the kitchen table.
(Notice in Clara’s dialogue we use an Em Dash because her dialogue is interrupted. In Joe’s dialogue, his trails off, so we use an ellipsis. Ellipses are discussed in blog post #58.)
Sudden Break Example:
“Someday she’s going to need me, and”—his voice turned icy— “I’ll be gone.”
“Will he—can he—really leave without me?” Clara asked.
5. If an Em Dash is used at the end of dialogue to indicate interruption, a comma should be used inside the quotation marks before the words that identify the speaker.
“What the hell were you thinking? You might what? Go to—,” Joe said, but Clara had already slammed the door in his face.
6. An Em Dash may be used with a question mark or an exclamation point, but never a comma (except in dialogue, see #5). And never use an Em Dash with a colon, or a semicolon, and rarely with a period except in endnotes/footnotes/editor’s notes.
- All at once Clara—can she have been out of her mind?—hauled off and socked Joe in the nose.
- Only if—for Pete’s sake!—you’re lost should you go to the authorities.
For Mac Users
Here is how you do an En Dash and an Em Dash on an Apple MacBook Pro.
En Dash: OPTION+HYPHEN
Other Types of computers
For Macs: ⌥ Opt+- (en dash) or ⌥ Opt+⇧ Shift+- (em dash)
For Windows: Alt+0150 (en dash) or Alt+0151 (em dash)
For iPhones and iPads: hold the – on screen keyboard until a pop up appears with choices including the en dash and em dash. If using an external keyboard use the Mac advice above.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:How_to_make_dashes#Em_dashes)
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As always, I love hearing your advice and/or suggestions on writing or self-publishing. And if you have a recommendation for the Reference Library, please comment.