When I attended my first critique group, I had never heard of an en dash or em dash. The good old hyphen had always worked well for me. As I soon learned, that is not the case in the writing and publishing industry.
It was time to learn to use them properly.
- En dash: Used mainly for connecting inclusive numbers, such as dates and time.
Example: 1995 – 1997
Example: Pages 22 – 28
- Em dash: A break in thought or interruption in dialogue. Also used to set off a word or phrase that explains or amplifies.
Example: Show—don’t tell.
Example: “Susie, I don’t agree with—“
“What do you mean you don’t agree?”
When dialogue is broken by narrative, the em dashes go outside the quotation marks.
Example: “The publisher turned down my proposal, but”—she said tearfully—“he gave me some very constructive advice.”
Another term introduced to me by my critique group was ellipses. I had been using it without knowing what it was—or how to use it properly. Sometimes I would get carried away and use six or eight for emphasis. A bad habit, just like exclamation points and quotation marks.
- Ellipses: Used when omitting a word, phrase, or line from a quoted passage. Used when a line of dialogue trails off. Also indicates faltering or fragmented speech.
Example: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth … a new nation.”
Example: “I’m so busy there’s no time to …”
Example: “But Sally, I won’t … I mean ... I can’t go with you.”
- Use only three.
- Spacing can vary according to style sheets and guidelines for various venues. While some use space, dot, dot, dot, space ( … ), others typically use space, dot, space, dot, space, dot, space ( . . . ). Whatever you use, be consistent throughout your manuscript.
Learn to use these dashes and dots correctly and don't overuse them.
How about you? What are your most common punctuation problems? We would love to hear from you. Be sure to join us next Monday when Denise Loock shares her views on the semicolon.
(Photos courtesy of blog.psprint.com and Elyseslspace.blogspot.com)