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Monday, May 21, 2012

The Dash (or "Em Dash")

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 (correct)
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.)


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.

Questions, anyone?

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