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Dashes (including en dashes and em dashes)

 
 
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Old 02-04-2009, 04:23 AM
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Default Dashes (including en dashes and em dashes)


Dashes


Simply, dashes are used to separate lists or parenthetical expressions from the rest of a sentence in the same way as colons, semi-colons, or brackets.


Example:

School is based on the three R’s – reading, writing, and ‘rithemtic.

This could also be written using a colon:

School is based on the three R’s: reading, writing, and ‘rithemtic.


Example:

Our holiday in Transylvania was terrible – too many vampires.

This could also be written using brackets:

Our holiday in Transylvania was terrible (too many vampires).


Example:

Against all odds, Pete – the unluckiest man alive – won the lottery.

This could also be written using brackets:

Against all odds, Pete (the unluckiest man alive) won the lottery.



Dashes can be used to indicate ranges.

Example:

This book is aimed at children 4-6 years of age.



Dashes can also used to indicate relationships or connections between words:

Examples:

Despite fears, the Rangers-Celtic game went off without incident.

The score of the Flyers-Bruins game was 3-0.

The father-son bond was strong from the beginning.




En-dashes and Em-dashes

It would be wonderful if a dash was a dash, and that was all there was to it, but there are two distinct types of dash, the en dash and the em dash.


En Dash

The en dash, also sometimes called the n dash or n-rule, is so-called because it is approximately the width of the typewritten letter ‘n’.

It is the dash you would use to indicate ranges. It’s also the one used to indicate relationships or connections between words. (See examples above.)

Occasionally, en dashes are also used for parenthetical comments, instead of em dashes, particularly in cases where the em dash would look odd, at the end of a justified line for example.

The en dash is written with a space before and after it – as in this example - separating it from the rest of the text.



Em Dash

The em dash, also sometimes called the m dash or m-rule, is so-called because it is approximately the width of the typewritten letter ‘m’.

Em dashes are commonly used for separating parenthetical expressions—which might indicate an abrupt change in one’s train of thought, a sudden recollection, or the insertion of some related, but non-essential, information—from the rest of a sentence. The previous sentence contains an example of a parenthetical expression.

The em dash can also be used in dialogue to denote that a speaker has been interrupted; or for an aposiopesis, a device used to show that a speaker is unwilling or unable to continue.

Generally, the em dash is written without any spaces between it and the words that precede and follow (as shown in the example above).

The practice of joining the em dash to the text is recommended by both the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Oxford Guide to Style. Some guides, however, such as the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, prefer leaving a hair space (a space narrower than the one normally left between words).



En dashes vs. Em dashes

As stated previously, the Chicago Manual of Style and the Oxford Guide to Style both recommend using the em dash for parenthetical expressions. It is also the dash of choice of the Oxford University Press.

Yet other guides, such as The Elements of Typographic Style, prefer the use of the en dash. The en dash is also the preferred choice of the Cambridge University Press, Penguin, and Routledge.


So which to choose?
  • For instances where you want to indicate a range or show a relationship, use the en dash.
  • For interrupted speech, use the em dash.
  • For parenthetical expressions, the choice is yours.

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