Em Dash

Rules and Examples


Punctuation marksThe hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash are the three forms of dashes and lines used in the English language.

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Let's begin by quickly reviewing the hyphen and en dash.

Hyphen ( - )

The hyphen is the shortest of the three forms of dashes and lines. It is made by pressing the hyphen/underscore key to the right of the zero.

A hyphen ( - ) is used in compound words and split words.

Examples:
  • ninety-nine
  • mother-in-law
  • great-looking woman
  • vice-president
  • mid-October


En Dash ( – )

The en dash is about the same width as the letter "N".

The en dash can be made in Microsoft Word by pressing the CTRL key + the minus sign -, located on the keypad.

Another way to form the en dash is to hold down the ALT key while typing 0150 on the keypad.

There are 4 uses for the en dash:

  1. show a range of number

    There will be 15–25 kids at the game.

  2. show a period of time

    The meetings will be held October 11–October 15, 2012.

  3. show distance

    The flight from Africa–America is long.

  4. game scores

    The team won the game 15–10.

    cheerleader


Em Dash ( — )

The em dash is the longest of the three dashes and lines in the English language.

The em dash is about the same width as the letter "M".

On the keyboard

  • The em dash is made on most PCs by holding down the ALT key while typing 0151 on the keypad ( — ).

  • The em dash can be made in Microsoft Word by pressing CTRL + ALT + the minus sign -, located on the keypad.

  • On a Mac computer, the em dash is made by pressing ALT + SHIFT + the hyphen key, located to the right of the zero.

Using an em dash

We use the em dash in sentences to create a strong break to show an interruption, a change of thought, or to show emphasis. The em dash can be used in place of some commas, parentheses, colons, and semicolons.


Notes:
  • The em dash is mostly used in informal writing such as friendly letters, emails, and journals.

  • Do not overuse the em dash in formal writing, such as business letters, research papers, and articles.

  • A good rule is to use parentheses, commas, semicolons, and colons instead of em dashes in formal writing.

  • There should be no spaces before or after an em dash.

Rules:

1. Use em dashes in place of commas or parentheses to create a break in a sentence

Examples:
  • Please call my lawyer—Richard Smith—on Tuesday.

    This sentence could also be written with commas or parentheses.

    Please call my lawyer, Richard Smith, on Tuesday.

    Please call my lawyer (Richard Smith) on Tuesday.
  • I talked to Mr. Johnson—my son's math teacher—at the game on Friday.

    This sentence could also be written with commas or parentheses.

    I talked to Mr. Johnson, my son's math teacher, at the game on Friday.

    I talked to Mr. Johnson (my son's math teacher) at the game on Friday.

    teacher

2. Use an em dash like a colon or semicolon to create emphasis

A) In place of a colon:
  • Mom needs four things at the store—butter, milk, flour, and bread.

    This sentence would be written with a colon in formal writing.

    Mom needs four things at the store: butter, milk, flour, and bread.

  • The house rule is simple—clean up after yourself!

    This sentence would be written with a colon in formal writing.

    The house rule is simple: clean up after yourself!
B) In place of a semicolon:
  • My sister loves chocolate—my brother loves vanilla

    This sentence would be written with a semicolon in formal writing.

    My sister loves chocolate; my brother loves vanilla.

  • Tim got an "A" on his spelling test—therefore, he gets a longer recess.

    This sentence would be written with a semicolon in formal writing.

    Tim got an "A" on his spelling test; therefore, he gets a longer recess.

    panda at school

3. Use an em dash to show a sudden change of thought

Examples:
  • I was going to buy a—what did you say she wanted for her birthday?

  • Mom needs to talk to you about—oh, please excuse me! I did not know you had company.

  • I had a great day at the zoo—hey! Is that a jaguar?

    spotted jaguar
These were the uses of the em dash. Now that you know them, it is time to practice! Read and do exercises.

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