En Dash & Em Dash – What, You've Never Heard of Them?
This post is dedicated to very unusual components of punctuation that are usually overlooked. Even in grammar books and style guides, they barely get a mention. But their proper usage either in paytowritepaper reviews or another part of creative/technical writing will set you heads above the rest.
WHAT IS THE EN DASH?
This does not appear on your keyboard.
In Windows, you can supposedly enter it by typing ALT + 2013. That is, hold down your alt key, type the number 2013, then release the alt key. I could not get this to work. Instead, I had to go to the insert symbol menu. On the web, it is named –
WHEN IS THE EN DASH USED?
The en dash is used with numbers and some phrases in place of to:
- The council voted 42–13 against the measure;
- World War II, 1939–1945, is said to be the world’s most widespread war;
- Take the Atlanta–Chicago flight.
However, don’t use it with from: I work from 4 to midnight.
It is also used with only one number to indicate an open range, as in a biography of a still-living person: John Roach, 1980–.
Finally, it is used to form compounds with other compounds: World War II-era planes are nothing like the jet fighters in use today.
I would give you an example of a phrase that uses both hyphens and en dashes, but I just can’t. It’s too ugly and I won’t do it. Suffice it to say, if you find yourself writing such a monstrosity, rewrite your sentence.
THE EN DASH AND STYLES
Fowler’s, which calls it the en rule, and Chicago essentially give the same rules, with Chicago also using the en dash in book-specific areas such as indexes. The AP omits it entirely. So, unless you’re writing in a very specific arena, these three rules should be enough.
WHAT IS THE EM DASH?
The em dash, sometimes referred to as simply a dash, is one of the most versatile punctuation marks we have in the English language. It looks like this: —.
You can enter it by typing ALT + 0151 (hold down ALT, type 0151, and release); many word processors will insert it if you type two hyphens back to back. The HTML code is —.
WHAT IS THE EM DASH USED FOR?
The em dash is used for parenthetical expressions; expressions that aren’t really a part of the sentence: The movie—boy was it long!—was about a boy, his dog, and post-apocalyptic zombies.
It is also used to set off a clause that the rest of the sentence refers to: Ice cream, pickles, and chicken feathers—these are some of the things I have to get at the store.
You also use dashes when you have an overabundance of commas, or when more commas would confuse the reader: The sculptor, who specialized in deities—Cthulhu, Nyalarathotep, and Azathoth—turned out to be a little crazy.
EM DASHES AND STYLE
Chicago dictates no spaces on either side of the dash—like so—while AP gives them breathing room — like this.
And above lies one of the cardinal sins of em dashes: using more than two. If you find yourself at the end of a sentence that has more than two dashes, rewrite it; something has gone horribly wrong.
Well, I think you have enough information for the first time. Agree that the topic is quite banal, but there are so many pitfalls. It confirms once again every little thing is important - there is nothing insignificant. Especially for a real professional writer.
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