Grammar Rule #1: The em dash is often simply called the dash.
However, there are several kinds of dashes. Each consists of a different number of taps on the hyphen key:
- en dash (one tap) = substitutes for to in connecting numbers: 1-20.
- 2-em dash (four taps) = represents a missing word or part of a word: She called him by the nickname ----.
- 3-em dash (six taps) = represents a repeat of the author’s or editor’s name in a bibliography: ------. Lost in Grammar. Homegrown Press, 2012.
Grammar Rule #2: Do not confuse the em dash with the hyphen.
On your keyboard, the hyphen key is tapped once, to look like this: -
The em dash is tapped twice, to look like this: —
To make an em dash, you will use the hyphen key in one of these ways:
- On Windows: hold down the ALT key and type 0151.
- On Mac OS: hold down the Shift and Option keys, then tap the hyphen key once.
- In Microsoft Word: type the word, followed immediately (no space) by two taps on the hyphen key, followed immediately (no space) by the next word, then a space. So, it’s word, hypen, hyphen, word, space. The two hyphens become a dash when you hit the space.
Grammar Rule #3: Do not use spaces around an em dash.
word — word (incorrect)
word— word (incorrect)
word —word (incorrect)
Grammar Rule #4: Use an em dash after a series of words or phrases that give details about the statement that follows.
Bread, peanut butter, and a knife—these are all you need for a tasty snack.
Brenda, my critique partner; Julia, my reader; and Don, my cheerleader—these were the faithful three who walked the long road to publication with me.
NOTE: A colon presents information in exactly the opposite way of an em dash.
Chicago, Philadelphia, and Geelong, Australia—these are the far-flung cities my children live in.
My children live in far-flung cities: Chicago, Philadelphia, and Geelong, Australia.
Grammar Challenge: Your Turn! Which sentences are correct?
1. Bread, jam, and tea – what could be better?
2. These are my favorite animals—cats, dogs, and horses.
3. Join us every evening, 5:00-6:00, for a sumptuous meal.
4. “Get out, you—jerk,” she cussed.
5. Iowa, Ohio, and Indiana: these are the three states I’ve lived in.
6. Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, mint chocolate— they are equally loved in my house.
(Answers are below.)
TUESDAY: TIPS FOR SHARPENING YOUR WRITING SKILLS.
WEDNESDAY: MORE ON THE EM DASH.
1. Incorrect because hyphen used instead of em dash.
2. Incorrect because em dash should follow a series, not precede it.
3. Correct because en dash used between numbers.
4. Incorrect because 2-em dash should represent a missing word.
5. Incorrect because em dash should follow a series, not a colon.
6. Incorrect because em dash should not be followed by a space.