Tag Archives: punctuation wars

Death of the Em Dash?

Or, Why I Will Never Give Up This Bad Habit

Never, never, never, I will not give up the em dash—even though I probably overuse it.

em dashEm dashes are not hyphens. They are not used to connect two words, but rather to connect two different thoughts, and they are longer than hyphens. I used one in the paragraph above, see if you can find it. 🙂

This article in Slate calls for an end to the use of the dash, saying it’s unnecessary and (horror of horrors!) a mark of poor style. (Oh boy, I better go back and edit all my blog posts, before my readers think I’m some kind of caveman). Though the author of the article does quote  Strunk and White as saying, “Use a dash only when a more common mark of punctuation seems inadequate.” So I maintain the other punctuation marks are usually inadequate.

Commas are too short of a pause, and usually cause comma splices when you use them to connect ideas.

Periods, followed by capital letters, are too harsh and abrupt. Anyway, if I used these instead of dashes I’d have millions of tiny sentences littering my page, instead of flowing paragraphs.

Semicolons look too ridiculous and formal (Look, everyone! I know how to use semicolons properly!) I think they are only proper in academic writing, or if your fiction is a certain kind of stiff writing style.

I overuse ‘…’ too, so what can I do but interchange those pauses with dashes? After all, some pauses happen because the character is your story trails off, which needs a ‘…’, but some pauses happen because the character is cut off, and an em dash (—) is prefered for that.

What about you? Do you like using an em dash, or is there another piece of punctuation you overuse/misuse?

UPDATE: I have replaced all the en dashes in the above paragraphs with the proper em dashes. Yes, there is a difference. Half a millimeter of difference. 🙂 Interestingly enough, some typographers argue for the use of an en dash flanked by spaces instead of using em dashes. Typographers will argue it looks better—editors and grammarians probably will not. (See here for more info)

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