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

More Applications:

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

Here are some more formatting tips for em dashes in Word.

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!”

Em Dash Truck driver making a comment

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