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The hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash...please help!

 
Ulysses5284
(@ulysses5284)
Active Member
Posts: 8

Hey everyone! I just had a quick question about those three beauties up in the subject. Up until recently, I wasn't aware that there was a difference between the three. Since figuring this out, I've been struggling with the best ways to use an em dash in my writing. I know it is used for things such as showing breaks in sentences or sometimes as a a change of emphasis. But is it something that is fine to use often, or is it more of a "literary spice" to be sprinkled sparingly in my work? For instance, I've used an em dash setup approximately 6 or so times in a 4200 work. Anyway, I know this can be a bit tricky to use for some...myself included...so I thought bringing it up might do some good for others as well.

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Topic starter Posted : November 16, 2019 11:52 am
Disgruntled Peony
(@disgruntledpeony)
Gold Star Member
Posts: 1122

I think, so long as it suits the pacing of the sentence/isn't used overly much it's fine. Six times in a 4k work is probably just fine, although context is of course everything. I like my em-dashes and semicolons far more than I perhaps should, but I try not to overdo it. wotf019

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Posted : November 16, 2019 3:05 pm
Henckel
(@henckel)
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I use em dash ALL THE TIME and have been criticized for it.
Technically, the em dash is used as an aesthetic replacement to the brackets ( and ). Its really helpful when you want to break mid-sentence for a brief elaboration on a word or phrase. The elaboration is usually details that doesn't otherwise fit into the paragraph, but not a complete sentence.

Personally, I'm a fan of sentense fragments, but they have to be used properly. The em dash is a good way to muse them while meeting grammatical rules.

Disclosure. It't really easy to mess this up. Oh, and you have to avoid over using them em dash.

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Posted : November 17, 2019 9:20 am
AndyDibble
(@andydibble)
Bronze Member
Posts: 86

There's one use of the em dash where grammar almost requires it: if you have a subordinate clause that contains commas

It was only to be expected that Troy should fall — and fall emphatically, its very location effaced and, for millennia, forgotten — because the Gods and heroes on the Greek side were among the most powerful in the Greek pantheon.

from: https://english.stackexchange.com/quest ... ting-comma

Although in fiction writing I think it's rare that that construction is ideal. Normally shorter sentences make for greater fluency.

In fiction, we use an em dash to indicate interrupted speech:
"You know, you really should--"
"I really should, what?"

The comparison here between em dash use, comma use, and paren use is instructive
https://www.eliteprep.com/blog/2017/9/2 ... ith-dashes
(Go to "Em Dashes as Parentheses or Commas (Most Common)")

Two other things about em dash:
* It is incredibly versatile as far as punctuation goes. It can replace most other punctuation and your sentence will still be be more or less grammatical. this means if you use it, you generally make your prose less precise, which is why it's good to avoid
* it is more emphatic than a comma because it visually offsets a clause.

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Posted : November 17, 2019 9:59 am
C.A.Tedeschi
(@c-a-tedeschi)
Active Member
Posts: 23

I noticed some people use a space at either side of the em dash, and some don't. I was under the impression, no space.

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Posted : August 9, 2020 10:02 am
Wulf Moon
(@wulfmoon)
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Posts: 2337

I noticed some people use a space at either side of the em dash, and some don't. I was under the impression, no space.

You turn off your em dash in autocorrect, and type two en dashes, no space before or after. Like this—yes, there’s two dashes in there. The copy editor sets the em dash.

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Posted : August 9, 2020 6:50 pm
TimE
 TimE
(@time)
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I noticed some people use a space at either side of the em dash, and some don't. I was under the impression, no space.

I'm fond of the em dash and I suspect I'm guilty of inconsistency with spaces around the em dash. I don't uses spaces when i use em dashes to show an action interrupting dialogue. I probably do use spaces other times - and it looks like that is wrong - see https://www.thepunctuationguide.com/em-dash.html It says: The em dash is typically used without spaces on either side, and that is the style used in this guide. Most newspapers, however, set the em dash off with a single space on each side. (so perhaps my inconsistency can be forgiven!)

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Posted : August 9, 2020 7:07 pm
Dustin Adams
(@axeminister)
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Posts: 1004

I always use a space - otherwise it looks like a hyphenated word. Or maybe it's because I'm incorrectly using a hyphen. Either way I'm a reluctant user. Maybe because I'm using it incorrectly. Smile

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Posted : August 10, 2020 3:12 am
Disgruntled Peony
(@disgruntledpeony)
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Posts: 1122

https://www.shunn.net/format/story/

Shunn manuscript format is always a good source for this kind of thing. On page 4 of the modern guide, it says:

If you want to indicate an em dash--the punctuation that sets off this phrase--simply type two hyphens. Most word processors will convert the two hyphens to a dash automatically. (Courier users might want to turn off this particular feature of autocorrect, since in monospaced fonts a dash is difficult to distinguish from a lone hyphen.) There’s no need to put spaces around the dash.

If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells
R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F, SHM, SHM, SHM, SF, SHM, 1st Place (Q2 V38)
Ticknor Tales

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Posted : August 10, 2020 11:33 am
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