The Em Dash –
(also known as: M-Dash, long dash, pause dash, and a myriad of other nicknames writers use) The Em dash is a punctuation mark. While similar in appearance to a hyphen, the Em dash is longer and it is used differently. The em dash is used to set off a word or phrase after an independent clause or to set off words, phrases, or clauses that interrupt a sentence.
The Em Dash and Its uses:
- In place of bulky parenthesis
- To introduce a separate thought within a sentence
- Is more visually off-setting than a semi-colon and is not as formal as a colon
- When cutting off dialogue, the em dash is more abrupt and urgent than an ellipsis
- Is useful to connect two separate sentences where a semi-colon is not applicable
The em dash feels right at home in writing of a more artistic style. Emily Dickinson used the em dash shaker to sprinkle her poems and left the comma shaker on the shelf.
Additionally, the em dash is a multifunctional tool in dialogue. Punctuation does wonders for creating pacing in written conversations—the em dash is perfect for creating a longer pause without moving onto a new subject.
“It has me thinking—thinking about how awful it is to use a semicolon in dialogue.”
For you anti-swifty, Stephen King disciples that adhere to the “…to write ‘he said, she said’ is divine”, using an em dash to cut off speech mid-sentence or even mid-word can save you from using any type of dialogue tag.
“But I like to use semicol—”
“No! Do not blaspheme in my blog!”
Wait! There’s no em dash key! Aaaargh!
Mac users, use Option + Shift + Dash to create an em dash
PC users, use Alt + 0151 to create an em dash
Warning: Do not confuse the hyphen with the em dash. The effect could be unintentionally tragic or tragically hilarious. “I like that semi—colons are applicable for many occasions!”
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