Em Dash: What is It and How Can You Use It Correctly?

Em Dash.The Em Dash can be a bit tricky to use. While it is often confused with the en dash or the hyphen, it’s uses are quite specific.

 
Em Dash Defined

Before beginning, it might be helpful to differentiate between the em dash, the en dash, and the hyphen.

First, the name of this term comes from its length; if you look closely, it is the length of the letter “m.”

 
1. The em dash is primarily used as a way to set off parenthetical information or appositives (additional information).

In these cases, two em dashes must be used one either side of the parenthetical information or appositive.

  • Example of parenthetical information: While I was doing my homework—thinking and pondering, really—the doorbell rang.
  • Example of an appositive: The whole family—Carlos, Arturo, Luis, and Eva—went to the beach.
 
2. The em dash is also used to emphasize the end of a sentence.
  • Example: Carlos didn’t know much, but he knew one thing for sure—he was exhausted of constantly trying.
 
3. Finally, the em dash is also used to demonstrate an interruption.
  • Example: Natalia said, “I’m not sure what you want from me—” when Carlos abruptly got up and left the room.
 
En Dash Defined 

Next, it might be helpful to quickly compare and contrast the em dash with the en dash. The name of the en dash similarly dervies from its length; it is the length of the letter “n.”

 
We use the en dash in a range of numbers.
  • Example: Please read pages 21–89 of the textbook.
  • Example: The war lasted form 1956–1995.
 
Hyphen Defined

Finally, the hyphen has several uses. It is also shorter than the em dash and the en dash.

 
1. First, it can be used when a word is split into two at the end of a line due to spacing issues.
  • Example: Do not forget to use the hyph-

en.

 
2. In addition, we use it to form compound adjectives and with compound adjectives before a noun. (Remember that certain compound adjectives are not hyphenated, including those with an adverb (ending in –ly).
  • Example: This city is very densely-populated.
  • Example: This is a very densely-populated city.

 

Check out my previous blogs on collective nouns and the controversial serial comma! Stay tuned for the next parts of this series, which will focus on italics and the semi-colon in-depth, and offer tips, tricks, and best practices.

How do you use this punctuation mark? I’d love to hear your suggestions! Questions? Comments? For copy editing projects, please visit my copy editing page, which list my full experience and rates. Contact me for more information about your project needs.

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